Ashley Holliday, elementary Special Education teacher, and Jill Jewell, 2nd Grade teacher, are the poster sisters for what it means to ‘grow up Vandalia.’ Ashley has wanted to be like her big sister, Jill, ever since she could remember. “She did follow me around a lot,” Jill admits. Their at-the-hip connection remains ever strong to this day. When they’re not arguing over Ashley’s disdain for Branson as the destination for the next sister trip, they’re putting the possibilities of hometown success on display in the classroom.
Making an Impact
On Young Lives
The connection the two share began early in Ashley’s life, at age 11, when their father passed away. “Mom had a job in Springfield, so she traveled back and forth every day to go to work,” Ashley explains, “Jill had a hand in raising me. I’m guessing that kind of helped make me the person I am.” Even when touching on painful subjects, the two can’t help but allow levity into the room— Jill teases, “We kind of joke that I really messed-up with her. What’s funny is my own daughter is so much like her. Did I just mess up in my raising?” We can’t answer that one for you, Jill. We fear Ashley’s wrath.
The sisters worked part-time jobs growing up, a period they credit with promoting their work ethic. Ashley was at Rural King, and Jill at McDonald’s. When they weren’t working, they spent their hours on one of Vandalia’s oldest teenage pastimes, “cruising” in someone’s vehicle around town until everyone had to go home. “Of course, she being ten years older,” Ashley says, “I always wanted to cruise with her and her friends because everyone cool was in her friend group.” To the sound of engines idling on empty midwestern nights, Ashley and Jill both dreamed of finding their place in the world. “We knew we wanted a better life,” Jill says, “our parents instilled in us that education was important and to go out and get the job that you want. In order to do that, we needed to go to college.” So that's what they did.
Ashley and Jill have both received their master’s degrees in School Administration. Additionally, Ashley has acquired her director certificate for special education so she can “be a special ed director when she grows up.” She praises the resources available to Vandalia Elementary’s Special Ed program, highlighting a partnership with Midstate Special Education which streamlines occupational and physical therapy services. With 20 years of memories (24 for Jill) at Vandalia Schools, the shared classroom strategies between these two have made them a mighty duo to be reckoned with.
Looking back at their own experience with the old Vandalia hangouts and haunts, and the changes they’ve seen in schools over the years, they have some observations. For instance, Jill thinks the focus on vocational classes at the high school level is great, but might be amped-up even more, as the common core curriculum focuses mostly on college-bound students. Inspired by her parents’ lack of ‘go to college’ pressure on her, Ashley has encouraged her son to try a technical school if he doesn’t find his best fit in college. Her hope for the infrastructure on the K-12 side is tethered to a hope that more special education students will be identified in the future. She’s seen a somewhat higher poverty rate creep into the community, since her school days, and all the educational symptoms that go with it. Early intervention is crucial for these students who may deal with learning issues compounded by economic stresses.
“You have kids that are coming in at all different levels, all different backgrounds,” Jill says, “if all of our kids could have an even playing field, that would probably be my wish.” Though described as the “feistier” of the two, Ashley also has a wish, and it’s a mercy mild one. “Would it be cliché to say I would bring peace to the world [with a wish]?” she asks, “our world is hurting right now, especially in the United States. We need to do better to come together.” We couldn’t agree more, Ashley— Part of that begins with an olive branch from yourself to Jill; Suck it up and take a Branson trip with your sister, for crying out loud!