For nearly 30 years, Kathy Rudolph and Karen Burrell saw each other often throughout the day at Freetown Elementary School.
The small Jackson County school had one teacher for each grade, and they would be at lunch and recess at the same time every school day.
But when the school closed in 2010 and most of the teachers and students moved to Brownstown Elementary School, it was an adjustment for everybody.
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Burrell was able to remain a fourth-grade teacher, but there wasn’t a first-grade teaching position open for Rudolph, and she wound up becoming a remedial reading teacher. That resulted in the two not seeing each other as often.
Fortunately, the teachers and staff at Brownstown made the transition smooth for the Freetown staff and students, and everyone felt welcomed. That was a relief for Rudolph and Burrell.
Now, as they wrap up their careers in education — Rudolph 43 years and Burrell 37 years — they look back knowing they had a good experience.
“Change is hard on anybody, and it was tough coming over here, especially when I didn’t get what I had done for 37 years,” Rudolph said. “But this old dog could still learn some new tricks, and then I began to see as I worked in small groups that this is not bad. It’s different, but that doesn’t make it bad. I still see light bulbs go off, and I still see growth, so that’s really good.”
Burrell was happy to continue teaching fourth grade at Brownstown.
“I felt like a brand new teacher starting out, and I’d have to ask everyone, ‘How do you do recess? How do you do this? How do you do that?’” she said. “Once we got that year under our belt, I think everything went very smoothly. I’ve made really good friends here. The people I work with are wonderful. They’ve helped me through it all.”
Rudolph and Burrell both earned their bachelor’s degree in education from Ball State University, but they had different starts to their careers.
Rudolph, a Carmel native, married in 1973, the year she graduated from college. She landed in Freetown because that was her husband Mike’s hometown, and a first-grade teaching position happened to be available.
“I met my husband at Ball State, and he’s a Freetown guy. There was no other place he was going to live, so if I wanted him, it was a package deal. I had to come to Freetown,” Rudolph said, smiling.
After graduating from Ball State in 1978, Burrell, a Jackson County native, taught at Vallonia for three years, going from half-day remedial to second grade to third grade.
Once that school shut down, she moved to Freetown to teach kindergarten for 15 years before focusing on fourth grade.
“I just always loved children,” Burrell said what drew her to teaching. “I would babysit all of the time, and I had the ability to tell them stories without a book, and they were totally impressed with that. I thought, ‘I think this would be something I would enjoy.’ I always have had a passion for helping kids.”
While she initially set out to teach higher elementary grades, Rudolph found the perfect fit in first grade.
“I was a little apprehensive at first, but it turned out to be a really good thing because I enjoy working with little kids,” she said. “The good thing about when you’re teaching the first-grade level, you’re teaching emergent readers. When you see a kid get it and then all of a sudden realize they are reading, that’s pretty impressive.”
Burrell said fourth grade suited her because of her interest in math, Indiana history and the pioneer era.
It was a plus that she had good co-workers, she said.
“The faculty was like a family. We always got along and worked everything out, worked together,” she said. “We moved the whole library one time to make it better for the kids. Everything was focused on what was best for the children.”
Since they both spent the bulk of their careers at Freetown, it was tough to see the school close.
“I don’t think we realized how good of a school it was until it closed,” Burrell said. “We were a Four Star School. We had it going on. We worked hard, and the kids worked hard, and the parents worked hard. Our PTO was wonderful. They had ownership because it was their community.”
When the school closed, it hurt the community, Rudolph said.
“It was generational because the room that I started teaching in for first grade, my husband went to school there in first grade, and his mother, who died last year at 91, went to school there in first grade,” she said. “There were generations that came through — parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. It was really a family-oriented community thing.”
The Freetown staff members either could take a retirement package or move to another school in Brownstown Central Community School Corp.
Rudolph said she initially was disappointed about not being able to lead a classroom at Brownstown, but remedial reading wound up being a good change of pace.
The Title I program allowed her to work with groups of four students — in either kindergarten, first grade or second grade — in half-hour blocks.
Those students are identified as needing remediation through an assessment at the beginning of the school year. Progress monitoring is done every 15 days, letting Rudolph and the teachers know how a student is moving along in reading.
“This has afforded me the opportunity to do some things in small groups that you can’t do with a whole class,” she said.
That included drawing letters in sand, Play-Doh or shaving cream.
“Those are the things that really make a difference to them because some of these students learn different than other kids do, so they need those tactile experiences,” Rudolph said. “When I’m sitting in actual close proximity with them, you’re working literally more closely with a kid in small groups than you are a whole class. That’s a real plus.”
Plus, she worked closely with up to 15 teachers at a time, so that helped her fit in at Brownstown.
“I had to coordinate with their schedules and touch base on student progress,” she said. “They’ve all been very accommodating and very welcoming, so it has worked out well.”
While moving from Freetown to Brownstown took some adjusting, Burrell said one thing remained the same — the job was still rewarding.
“You have a child come back to you years later and give you a hug and say, ‘I remember Pioneer Day; I loved that’ or ‘I loved making butter’ or you have the little kid sitting next to you and the light bulb goes off and they go, ‘That’s how you multiple and divide,’” she said. “It’s just the kids that come back and say they really remember what you did and made an impression on them.”
Rudolph said when Freetown closed, she wasn’t ready to retire. But after missing a semester of school last year because of a serious car wreck and knowing her husband is retiring, she realized it’s time.
“When I’ve taught kids and their grandparents, it’s time to stop,” she said, smiling.
Rudolph said she looks forward to gardening, doing household projects and spending time with her husband, children and grandchildren.
Burrell said several factors led to her decision to retire. Soon, she is getting married and moving to Bloomington, and she’s going to be a grandma. Also, technology has advanced so much in education.
“I thought about it last year, and I could have done it last year, but I wanted to do one more year,” she said. “I think someone told me one time, ‘You’ll know when it’s time,’ and I knew. It was time.”
Name: Kathy Rudolph
Education: Carmel High School (1969); Ball State University (bachelor’s degree in elementary education, 1973); Indiana University (master’s degree in education, 1977)
Occupation: Recently retired after 43 years in education, teaching at Freetown and Brownstown elementary schools
Family: Husband, Mike Rudolph; sons, Clint (Erin) Rudolph and Ben (Tory) Rudolph; granddaughters, Sophie Rudolph and Reagan Rudolph
Name: Karen Schleter Burrell
Education: Brownstown Central High School (1974); Ball State University (bachelor’s degree in education, 1978); Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus (master’s degree in education)
Occupation: Recently retired after 37 years in education, teaching at Vallonia, Freetown and Brownstown elementary schools
Family: Fiance, Jim Butler; children, Joe Burrell, Bethany Lambert and Hannah Burrell