DANVILLE — With a combined total of nearly 75 years in the classroom between them, Northeast Elementary Magnet School teachers Kathy Caston and Kim Hall undoubtedly have touched the lives of many students.
Having taught in many of the school buildings around the district, Caston said she has a lot of fond memories.
“I have lots of great memories, especially at South View and Northeast,” she said. “Douglas had great teachers and the best boss, Mrs. Ruby Dandridge, but it was the shortest teaching time for me.
“At Northeast I was blessed to move around and teach four different grade levels, and I had so much fun teaching PE because I knew every student in the building,” Caston said, adding that she was Northeast’s first PE teacher when it reopened as a magnet school.
“I loved it. I dressed in sweat suits every day, which was a nice break from suits and dresses,” she said, referring to the professional clothing she wore as a fifth grade teacher to be a good role model for her students.
Her students knew her as Ms. Hillsman up until 2003 when she married and became Mrs. Burlie Caston. She admits she planned to live in Champaign with her new husband and teach there, too, but luckily for the Danville students, she continued to teach another 14 years at Northeast until her retirement this week.
As it ended up, Caston taught PE only that one year.
“I was then introduced to 5- and 6-year-olds,” she said. “I was one frightened kindergarten teacher because I felt a huge responsibility to give them their first foundation to reading.
“I had 18 students my first year, and they were smart and I discovered I could treat them like my fifth-graders ... just on a younger scale,” she said. “I loved teaching kindergarten almost as much as fifth and sixth grade. I taught kindergarten for 10 years.”
At one point, Caston was the third kindergarten teacher along with Susan Day and Mary Tamalunis, but then Northeast returned to having two kindergarten classes.
“I had to move to first grade, but I got a bonus because I moved with 10 of my students,” she said. “Then, because first grades loops to second grade at Northeast, I had seven of those same students three years straight. They were Ambriel Gonzales, Isabel Juarez, Carrie Porter, Delaney Robinson, Alexis Sadler, Emily Skovran and Harrison Spaugh.
“There were other students that stayed with me from kindergarten to first grade like Kevin Black, Makayla Barkley and Ronnie Poke III,” she recalled. “Then I had some students who joined my first-grade class and were with me for second grade: Lexie Adams, Ka’Mya Bellic, Coleman Jessup, Samual Pollard, Teriana Reed and Olivia Taylor.
“They were outstanding kids. I loved those three years. We all knew each other very well,” Caston said. “To have seven students for three years in a row was truly heaven. These students are now freshmen at the high school. My first kindergarten class graduated high school last year and finished their freshman year of college. I keep up with a lot of my students.”
Hall said she, too, has many fond memories of her time in District 118.
“I have learned to always expect the unexpected especially when working with children,” she said. “One of my favorite stories that I still tell to this day is that when I began my teaching career at Tilton. I was an LD resource teacher, which meant that I would take small groups of children and work with them throughout the day and then return them to their regular teacher.
“It was Christmas time and my first group appeared at my door. One of the children had brought me a present, which I put on my desk,” Hall said. “The next day, one of the other children in the same group brought me an oddly-shaped gift. He insisted that I open it and when I did, I thanked him for his gift … a can of corn! I will never forget the gift or the child!”
Each teacher has different plans for retirement.
Hall said she plans to take one day at a time.
“I am going to take the first year to relax and decide what will come next,” Hall said. “I will probably do some volunteer work and spend time with family and friends.”
In her retirement, Caston said she and her husband plan to travel, visit family and volunteer.
“We will go to Hawaii,” she said. “I will spend time with family: my husband, Burlie; adult daughters, Lakesha and Mariah; and two grandchildren, Makhya and Michael; my sisters and brothers; and extended family.”
“I would like to work with older seniors in whatever capacity I can help them,” she added. “I have a 91-year-old cousin, Delia Mae, that I just love helping as well as others.
While Caston doesn’t plan to substitute teach, she says she will be active at her church where she serves as an usher.
“I attend the Love Corner in Champaign,” she said. “I will even help in the Danville community because it will always be home.”
Both Hall and Caston said they feel fortunate to have taught in District 118 for their entire career.
“I have been blessed to spend my 39.5 years in Danville District 118,” Hall said. “We have many wonderful and hard-working staff members that make this district work so well. I am proud to have been a part of that family.”
Caston said she, too, has enjoyed her 34 years with the district.
“The district has been good to me. I have worked with great administrators. I’ve made lasting friendships with so many colleagues. I had parents and their children in the classroom. I had families where I’ve had all of their children,” she said.
“Teaching is what I wanted to do since second grade in Kay Kilbourn’s class at Garfield Elementary School,” Caston said. “Many things have changed over the years. I loved it then when I started, I love it now and I will miss it. I will miss every aspect of being an educator.
“My last year was sweet because my niece, Mrs. Markesha Parker, was my last administrator,” Caston said. “Finally, I want to give honor to my parents, the late Odis and Mary Hillsman, for giving me life and my seven siblings who always supported me. I want to thank my husband for putting up with me for the last 16 years when I would put school first many times.”
Position: First grade teacher at Northeast Elementary Magnet School
Education: 1980 graduate of Danville High School, 1984 graduate of Illinois State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and a 2008 graduate of Olivet Nazarene University with a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.
Experience: Has served District 118 for 34 years, starting out teaching sixth grade for nine years at South View Middle School from 1985-1994; fifth grade at Douglas Elementary School for two year from 1994-1996; and Northeast Elementary Magnet School for 23 years from 1996-2019, starting with fifth grade for nine years, physical education for one year, kindergarten for 10 years, second grade for one year and first grade the last two years.
She also has coached or sponsored groups for 33 of her 34 years, including track and cheerleading at South View Middle School; Junior Varsity and Varsity cheerleading at Danville High School; Y-Teens; Minority Teachers’ Education Association; and patrol, track and volleyball at Northeast.
Kim S. Hall
Position: Second grade teacher at Northeast Elementary Magnet School
Education: Graduate of Pittsfield High School, Pittsfield, Ill., associate degree in early childhood education from Danville Area Community College, and Bachelor of Science in education and Master of Science in educational administration, both from Eastern Illinois University.
Experience: Has spent her entire teaching career of 39.5 years in District 118, starting out as a learning disabilities resource teacher at Tilton Grade School until it closed, then teaching self-contained special education at East Park Elementary School and ending her career teaching first and second grade at Northeast.