Hillsboro Elementary School art and music teacher Rita Loewen and counselor Mike Moran are retiring, and the school will celebrate their careers with a day named in their honor.
While their jobs are different, it seems fitting they will be feted together, as their careers have shared a common central theme — creativity, right down to shaping what their jobs entailed.
Loewen didn’t start out intending to teach art or music. She came to USD 410 as a sixth grade teacher in Durham, which she did for five years before taking six years off to have and raise two daughters, Jami and Audrey.
She came back to the district as a substitute teacher, and had spent several years as a part-time Title I teacher when she was approached with the possibility of teaching elementary art.
“I honestly did not have a lot of art background,” Loewen said. “I’m creative. I did bulletin boards for teachers, and they thought, ‘Rita can do art.’ They’d help me along, they said. So I kind of grew into the program.”
That was around 1987, Loewen said, and to bolster her skills she took art and drawing classes at Butler Community College in Marion.
In true creative form, Loewen took advantage of opportunities to expand the program beyond traditional elementary art activities.
“One thing that we jumped into with the help of the high school art teacher, we got into doing clay,” she said. “They had a kiln here. That was kind of a fun thing that developed, and kids love it.”
Art history found its way into her curriculum, she said, as she introduced students to famous artists and their styles, and created projects based on their techniques.
“It was fun seeing the kids grow to enjoy it,” Loewen said. “I’ve even had college students say that when they went to Europe and went to the Louvre that if we hadn’t studied those artists it wouldn’t have been as interesting.”
The position also grew to encompass middle school art, but about five years ago, as a result of some staff reassignments, Loewen dropped middle school art to take on another creative endeavor, elementary music.
“Music wasn’t totally a stranger to me,” she said. “My family enjoyed music. I sang throughout high school and college in choirs and trios.”
Loewen said she worked with high school music instructor Lynn Just to develop curriculum that would be engaging for children and emphasize foundational skills that would benefit them as they moved into middle and high schools.
Learning has been essential to her teaching, Loewen said.
“I’ve been learning on the fly,” she said. “I definitely had some good footsteps to follow. I just had to learn because I was not a major in those areas, but I feel like we’ve filled the void in some good ways.”
All told, Loewen’s career with USD 410 spanned 32 years, and while the time is right to retire, she said, it’s with mixed emotions.
“I will miss the kids, I’ll miss the camaraderie with staff,” she said. “I’ll miss the ‘ah ha’ moments when kids discover they can do something.”
When Mike Moran came to the district 23 years ago well-prepared with a master’s degree in counseling, he found there was room to be creative as well.
“When I interviewed with Gordon Mohn and Marilyn Ratzlaff, I had to tell them what I felt I needed to be doing as an elementary counselor,” Moran said.
Similar to Loewen, Moran’s initial direction in education was different from where he eventually found his niche. He taught industrial arts in Herington for six years and took a break to operate a welding shop before deciding to pursue a career in school counseling.
“It’s been a perfect fit for me,” Moran said.
From the outset, Moran said that being engaged with children in their classrooms was integral to his work.
“I can’t have a child come sit down in my office if they don’t know me,” he said. “They need to be able to trust you, parents need to be able to trust you, teachers need to be able to trust you. That takes time.”
In addition to classroom presentations on a variety of topics from enhancing self-esteem to conflict resolution, Moran also works with groups of eight to 10 children to reinforce those skills.
But his creative approach to relationship-building has set him apart from typical counselors. Moran is an accomplished guitar player, and he’s used that talent as part of his classroom presentations, as well as introducing students to the instrument.
“The guitar has really been a real plus, maybe a hook,” Moran said. “I teach guitar lessons, and we have 26 kids in guitar right now.”
He also sponsors a bike club.
“Is it what a counselor should do? Probably not,” he said. “But for a lot of kids that makes the idea of school fun. When I went to elementary school there were a lot of things that weren’t fun. I think school needs to be fun for learning to happen.”
Moran gave credit to HES Principal Evan Yoder for establishing a team-like environment in which his relationship with teachers is strong.
“It’s such a wonderful environment to work in,” he said. “The teacher doesn’t always feel the pressure that they have to solve the problems. My job is to try to help teachers so they can do what they do best. They create magic.”
Moran has been working three days a week the past two years, which laid the groundwork for his retirement.
“I’ve thought a lot about retirement with this two years of doing it part time,” he said. “It will be a big hole when it’s done for me. I’ll miss it.”