Holmes’ Crystal Apple teacher looks beyond academics with his students

       Bob Wilkerson likes kids. It's evident every time he talks about his teaching career.
       Kids must like him, too, because input from past students helped the 12-year Holmes Middle School teacher become the first from the school to receive the annual Crystal Apple Award, presented by the El Paso Council PTA for teaching excellence in District 11.
       At a ceremony May 3 at the South Circle Sheraton, Wilkerson will join five non-Westside teachers who have also earned PTA “apples” this year. Each will receive $500 to be used in the classroom, a crystal apple mounted on a plaque and an overnight stay in a Marriott Hotel.
       In addition to input from former students, the selection process hears from parents, teachers and administrators.
       “I'm very honored,” said Wilkerson, a retired Air Force officer who has taught in D-11 for 34 years in all. “We had just finished a CSAP test when the committee came in and told me. I was floored that my peers and the kids think that much about me.”
       Originally from Georgia, Wilkerson first came to the area with the Air Force in the 1960s. After leaving the service and earning his teaching certificate (at CU Boulder), “I applied down here, and I've been here ever since,” he said.
       Initially, he was only qualified to teach elementary ages. But over the years, he's continued taking courses so that now he is qualified to teach anything in the basic midddle school curriculum… except perhaps home economics, he amended with a grin.
       He has “high academic expectations,” he said, but he believes an equally key part of his job is helping his students deal with hang-ups that can keep them from learning. “I get to work with them through their social and emotional problems,” he said. “Parents know I care about their kids.”
       One of his former students, whom he taught in the first grade in 1975, recently got married and invited Wilkerson to the wedding.
       “When they tell you that you made a difference in their lives, that's the reward,” he said - although he added that rewards are not what motivate him.
       In an educational strategy at Holmes, Wilkerson and teaching teammate Steve Tucker have what's known as a “continuum,” in which they stay with the same students from sixth through eighth grade. “It's fun to watch them grow,” Wilkerson said of the arrangement. “It's quite a challenge to stay up with them, but you can establish neat relationships with the students and their families. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it.”
       Wilkerson is so upbeat about youth that at one point in the interview he made the comment, “You don't find bad kids.” Responding to the interviewer's quizzical expression, the teacher expanded: “They may have bad habits. But we work with those.”

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