Judy Willis says she is still in disbelief over being named Indiana Educator of the Year by the Indiana Criminal Justice Association.
Willis, a teacher at Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility, has taught English and language arts at the facility for 18 years.
“There are so many teachers in this environment that do great things and are deserving of the award, including many I work with,” Willis said. “They all deserve recognition. I’m glad this brings recognition to the facility.”
The award is meant to acknowledge innovation, excellence and outstanding achievements of those in criminal justice education who provide high quality instruction for incarcerated offenders and criminal justice students, a press release said.
With working at the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility for 18 years, Willis recalls being overwhelmed at the beginning. She also recalls having a mentor, Jenny Guy, who showed her a lot of the ropes. Willis recalls Guy requesting the worst kids. She was also influenced by her niece, Natalie Gerhart, who when diagnosed with cancer was determined to become the best teacher she could be. Although Gerhart passed away, she has been an inspiration to Willis.
“Jenny showed me how to get the most from the kids, how to get their respect and give them respect,” Willis said. “If it hadn’t been for her, I don’t know I would have advanced as much.”
Along with learning from her mentor, she has learned from the students. Willis said she has had every type of student, including some who have skipped school and others who have commented horrible crimes.
“They’ve done some bad things and some will continue to do bad things, but when they come in here and have an accomplishment it’s really cool,” Willis said. “I’ve learned every kid is capable of achieving.”
Willis laughed, talking about how her room is comparable to the front of a refrigerator with all of her student’s accomplishments. The students have enjoyed participating and having their work displayed, she said. Pictures and papers — even an entire wall of poetry — decorate her room.