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Cheryl Hall: Long-ago inspiration leads to life in classroom

Teacher brings art, Spanish, herself to students at Cornelius Elementary


NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: TRAVIS LOOSE - 'Speaking Spanish has always been a part of my life.'Cheryl Hall was introduced to Willard Phelps when she entered his sixth-grade class at Lot Whitcomb Elementary in Milwaukie, Ore.

Over the course of that fateful year, Phelps’ work inspired a 12-year-old Hall to make a plan for the future. A life of teaching became her path, “and I didn’t veer from that,” Hall said.

Today, Hall teaches second grade at Cornelius Elementary, and it’s her invaluable contributions to those children’s lives that made Hall a Hometown Hero in 2015.

A low-income school in a low-income neighborhood, Cornelius Elementary struggles.

“Last year at state testing time, some teachers had to buy their own copy paper, pencils and even tape if they needed it,” Hall said.

Outside the Forest Grove School District's general budget, the school doesn’t get money on a regular basis, she added, and a lack of parental involvement stymies many fundraising efforts.

“If I want to do anything extra — that I love — I have to apply for the money,” Hall said.

In her 16 years at Cornelius, she’s applied for and won more than 20 grants “to help enrich her students’ education,” Shirley Hall wrote on the News-Times’ Hometown Hero ballot.

She’s been awarded grants from the Kids in Need Foundation, the Forest Grove Education Foundation, Kappa Delta Pi and Read Across America, to name just a few organizations.

And the time it takes, which is extensive, isn’t a problem because she knows what it’s worth.

In fact, while preparing for the new school year, she was also applying for four curriculum and materials grants due on Sept. 15.

“Part of grant writing is doing it,” Hall said. “People who don’t write grants don’t get them.”

Hall is no stranger to working for what she wants.

In seventh grade, she began taking Spanish language classes because “I was good at it,” Hall said. “Language has always come easy to me. And I thought, 'if you’re good at it, you keep challenging yourself.' So, I never gave up.”

At 16, during the summer before her senior year in high school, she went to Costa Rica as part of a student foreign exchange program.

Then, as a junior in college, she went to the University of Guadalajara in Mexico as part of her double major in Spanish and elementary education.

“Speaking Spanish has always been a part of my life,” Hall said. “It makes me close to Spanish-speaking people.”

She returned to Mexico once more after that before becoming a full-time teacher at Cornelius.

After working as a Cornelius substitute teacher for one year, then-Principal Roger Moore sent Hall to Puebla, Mexico, to test her Spanish-speaking abilities as incentive for adding her to the staff of the largely Latino school.

Now, Hall is responsible for teaching 60 to 65 kids per day, almost entirely in Spanish.

But more than what she brings to the school is what she brings to her students.

Hall likes to incorporate art into every facet of her tutelage, sometimes doing it on her own dime.

By asking her students to emulate the works of historically famous artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Rene Magritte, she believes it will help them to better recognize the paintings when they’re older.

She also gets her students to celebrate cultural holidays such as Chinese New Year.

For Hall, it’s not enough for her students to know the ABCs. “I’m trying to show them the world,” she said. “As much as I can, at least.”

The turning point in Hall’s life came in sixth grade with Mr. Phelps. “I hope one day I can inspire one of my kids like that,” she said then.

In 2014, Hall invited Phelps to her classroom at Cornelius.

“The kids treated him like a celebrity,” Hall said. “They asked for his autograph and everything.”

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