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Bostrom's life changed after she came to 'far-away' land

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Bostrom's life changed after she came to 'far-away' land
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

Judy Bostrom was certain about her career goal, she just wasn't sure about the place where she was going to practice it.

That's how Bostrom recently described her situation when she was hired to teach in the Ellsworth School District in 1972. The Waukesha native recently reflected on her 35 years in education upon her retirement at the end of this school term.

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"After Goldie (the late administrator Campbell) called me at home, I turned to my dad and asked him to get the map," she said.

At the time, Bostrom was temporarily living at her family's Milwaukee area home, having just finished college at UW-Oshkosh, she said. Her father worked in maintenance and her mother as a secretary at city hall. Two sisters later became a nurse and a phone operator, respectively, while one brother was headed for the ministry and another brother for a position with Wisconsin Electric. Her job path would be teaching.

"From early on, I thought I'd like to be a teacher," she said, adding, "I enjoyed school a lot."

What with being in a 700-member graduating class at Waukesha High and doing her student teaching right in the college town of Oshkosh, Bostrom's orientation was entirely toward Wisconsin's higher-populated "east coast." So a job hunt leading to Ellsworth had her understandably feeling out of her element.

"My brother and sister-in-law drove me up here," she said, remembering leaving at 5 a.m. and going to the then-SuperAmerica when they arrived to get a phone book for some final directions. She just had to show that book to her relatives, who were waiting out in the car--it was so small, yet it contained phone numbers for several area communities.

"As kids, we used to sit on the phone book back home," she said about a way to reach the height of the dinner table, illustrating the size contrast.

It wouldn't be the only adjustment for the rookie teacher in her new surroundings. She said Campbell offered her the job on-the-spot and, once her initial hesitation was gone, she began teaching the same grade (second) and occupying the same Hillcrest Elementary classroom she'd have for the next nearly three-and-a-half decades. (Two positions she turned down afterward were even more distant, in Luck and Frederic.)

Initially, some of her Ellsworth classes were as large as 34 students, compared to the more typical 14-or-so nowadays, she said, noting the SAGE program is a factor in today's reduced sizes. Although teacher and students spoke the same language, there was a bit of a communication gap. For example, out in the school's hallway, she referred to that device they took drinks of water from as the "bubbler." When told the locals call it the "drinking fountain," her reaction was "a fountain is something in a park."

She also had to learn family dynamics, as she discovered when giving students notes to take home and advised by some about the different relationships they had with who they were going to give the note, she said. There was a writing chasm to deal with between the natives and transplants to the school, too: here, the second graders were still taught to print, while elsewhere they may have already started on cursive.

Specialists weren't as common when she originally taught; she could only recall a separate educator for her students' physical education. Art, guidance and music instructors came later.

"We had a piano right in the room," she said.

The location of her room was advantageous when it came to a favorite subject of hers, science, Bostrom said. Next to Kathy Deiss at first, then Kris Eaton, she was always able to handle science and health classes for her own charges and theirs, in exchange for them teaching social studies to the entire group.

"We did a lot of hands-on experiments," she said, admitting she'll miss those activities in retirement..

When textbooks were outdated (this was the early '70s and some referred to man landing on the moon in the future), she followed the Department of Public Instruction curriculum to come up with her own lessons, the teacher said. Learning expectations have since advanced; the seven- and eight-year-olds never used to work on multiplication or fractions, for instance.

"Things that used to be done in fifth grade are now in the second grade curriculum," she said.

The Accelerated Reader program, in which students are awarded points based on their amount of reading, has been a positive addition, she said. The graders do book reports on computer, study from three math books, and have more open time for projects including vowel sounds and board games.

Although Bostrom hasn't switched classrooms since she began, her room has changed, she said. It's been carpeted and otherwise soundproofed as well as had the former plastic chairs replaced with metal ones, reducing noise.

The elementary teachers take recess supervisor duty outdoors twice every six days, she said. The kids especially enjoy climbing and, despite having to endure cold weather when they climb snow piles, she's liked getting acquainted on the playground with first graders who were her then-future students.

She doesn't miss the old method of recording attendance before computers took over, she said. The records had to be kept by hand, then compiled for an end-of-the-year report to the state. That report had to be absolutely accurate.

"I used to worry I wouldn't be able to go home for the summer until it came out right," she said.

Through another teacher formerly in an adjacent room, she met her husband, she said. Shirley Bostrom introduced her to her brother-in-law one day when he visited the school. From that spur-of-the-moment meeting in the boiler room, a courtship developed. Her spouse, Jim, later worked as a custodian at Hillcrest for a year-and-a-half and is now employed by Hallstrom's in Red Wing. The couple lives in Hager City.

The retiree plans to devote more time to gardening at home and visiting family, including her retired minister brother living in Tennessee.

Her advice to parents: "Read with your kids and spend time with them."

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