Union High School Class of 2017 Valedictorian Bobbie Hilmer will find out in July if all of the extra work she put in during her senior year paid off in three or more college credits in English.
But even if Hilmer, the daughter of Robert and Kimberly Hilmer of Dysart, does not earn those extra college credits, the journey she took with that class – and its teacher – will be one of her favorite high school memories.
Hilmer was among the 2017 Union graduates who spent much of the last year struggling through the challenging and time-consuming workload of the Advanced Placement (AP) Literature Class.
That comprehensive class includes a significantly higher work load and many more reading assignments than other English classes. And says the teacher, the “deep thinking students must do in AP Lit goes beyond what they have done prior in complexity.”
Hilmer accomplished becoming Valedictorian while taking that AP Lit class and also being involved in a variety of activities, from FFA to NHS and participating in speech, color guard, jazz band, tennis, theater, Academic Decathlon, Mentors in Violence Prevention and the Silver Cord volunteer program.
Apart from her studies school activities, Hilmer, who was named the 2016 Benton County Fair Princess, is also involved in a variety of 4-H programs. She is also a volunteer camp counselor and worked a variety of part-time jobs.
As Valedictorian, Hilmer was honored at the Governor’s Scholar Recognition Ceremony. When asked to honor the teacher who influenced her the most, she named the instructor who had guided her through that challenging AP class as a senior, as well as several other English classes during her four years at UHS: Kerrie Michael.
Hilmer surprised Michael, whom Union students simply call “Miz,” during the recent senior awards assembly, when she took to the microphone to announce the honor that Michael had received, and present her the certificate signed by Governor Branstad.
“Miz has been my teacher and coach for the past three years for Academic Decathlon. Then, as a junior, she was my Composition teacher,” Hilmer explains. “The main reason I picked her as my most influential teacher is because she taught me very early on to never give up on my dreams. She has become a second mother to me (some of us even call her ‘Mom’) and although her classes challenged me, she taught me that there is great reward from struggle, no matter how much I wanted to give up sometimes.”
Hilmer says she and other students will remember Miz for being “very sassy,” but adds that her sassiness “just makes her advice all the truer and even more personable.”
“I believe I am speaking for nearly every other student in AP Lit in saying how much she means to us and that we are so grateful for the opportunity to have spent all year learning and making memories together as an AP Lit family. I cannot say enough about how amazing of a teacher she is, all sass included. She has really just given me the opportunity to be as prepared as possible for college and the real world.”
Mrs. Michael puts away the sass for a few moments as she explains how AP Lit is designed to push and challenges seniors to help prepare them for college – and to give them a chance to pass that test to earn some college credit.
“First and foremost the ultimate goal of the class is to prepare students for the AP Literature/Composition Exam,” she explains. “While it is an option to take the exam, it is my job to prepare them to pass or exceed passing so they can capitalize on getting college credits.”
The AP exam is three hours long, with two parts, explains the teacher. The first section includes essay literary analysis questions about a prose text they have never seen before, poetry they have never seen before, and a novel of their choice, as long as students can use that novel to address the question. Part 2 has 50-60 multiple choice questions students must answer in an hour regarding literary terminology and analysis over texts they have very likely never seen before.
Passing that tests earns a student 3 English credits at most colleges; a higher score than passing can potentially earn them another 3, says Michael.
“With this in mind, they have to be prepared in our class to do all of these tasks and do them well,” she explains. “So our class reads a wide range of novels and poems (around 100) from a multitude of genres and time periods. We read dramas, as well, including Shakespeare.”
An important part of the class is also sharing with and learning from other students.
“AP is very discussion driven,” explains the teacher. “The students have to be able to discuss the author’s purpose, style, themes, and the ways in which the authors deliver their message through their craft. They also write several timed essays to prepare them for the test as well as out-of-class essays to prepare them for their college experiences. They also periodically answer multiple choice questions like those that they will encounter on the test, and learn new vocabulary, including both the literary terminology they will need for the exam, and vocabulary they will encounter in the texts we read.”
Hilmer says one of the ways that Michael has influenced her most has been by sharing her own personal journey with her students while guiding them on theirs.
“The biggest way that Miz has helped me with my future is with all of her stories. In our AP Lit class we became a family and she is fairly open with us about career and college situations that she, if she could, now would go a different route. She just has so much experience under her belt and she is someone that we all trust with career/life advice. For me personally, she has taught me that there is power in struggle. Miz has taught me it’s okay not to know everything and it’s okay if things aren’t coming easy for me, that I will eventually overcome whatever obstacle is in front of me. Basically, Miz has been my rock with nearly any struggles I had these last three years. I knew that I could (and still can) depend on her to listen and she will always have an open mind and will do her best to help me choose the best option.
Miz saying being honored by Hilmer was a complete surprise.
“I had just asked her about the ceremony the day before and she didn’t let on at all,” she said. “There were times when Bobbie wasn’t sure she could make it through my class, and doubted herself, so when she selected me, I was very honored. She is proof that there is value in the struggle, and that in the end, learning is worth the effort.”
Michael says that she has always loved reading, and her mom and grandmother inspired her interest English and teaching. She even began teaching as a child, helping her younger siblings to learn to read.
“I still have my copy of ‘Dick and Jane,’ the book I learned to read from, and helped teach my siblings to read from. My grandmother and mother influenced my passion as well. Both are voracious readers. They always have a book with them, just in case the opportunity to read presents itself. Then in high school I had an amazing English teacher who helped me discover I could and should teach and spread that love to others,” she says.