Angela Shuckahosee and Clenece Hills plan to meet up in a couple weeks at Free State Brewing Co. to unwind, laugh, grab a bite and enjoy a beverage.
Nothing significant there, except that it’ll be just a couple weeks short of 20 years since Hills handed Shuckahosee some of the most important instructions of her young life.
That’s because back then, Shuckahosee and her fellow students in Mrs. Hills’ ninth-grade Advanced English class at South Junior High School found themselves prohibited from using “is,” “are, “was,” “has,” “has” or other so-called “linking verbs” in any of their written assignments.
“She was trying to make us better writers,” Shuckahosee recalls. “I’ve always remembered that.”
Now they won’t let each other forget.
The student and teacher are — OK, rank — among dozens of pupils and educators in Lawrence to reconnect on Facebook, the pervasive social-networking site that allows friends, family and acquaintances to keep up with one another through the web.
Facebook connections are nothing unusual, with more than 750 million people signed on as active users. But educators and former students alike credit the site with giving them a new way to stay in touch, offer thanks or even build strong friendships that would’ve been unlikely back in the day.
David Reber recalls catching up with only a relative handful of former students over the years, usually when they’d stop by the school during winter break or check in during a 10-year high school reunion.
“Unless I ran into them at the grocery store or something, it wouldn’t happen. It was the exception, rather than the norm,” said David Reber, a biology teacher at Free State High School, who counts a few dozens former students among his Facebook friends. “Now, you’re just kind of aware what they’re doing.”
The communication goes both ways.
Stan Roth, who retired 12 years ago after 40 years of teaching at Lawrence and Free State high schools, doesn’t post many status updates, or even log in to Facebook all that often. But he’s learning.
And having taught about 6,000 students — Roth taught students, he’ll tell you, using the subject of biology to do so — it was only a matter of time before the “friend” requests started popping up on the account his daughter had signed him up for a couple years ago.
Some of those same friends took to Facebook when they’d learned their teacher had been chosen for induction this summer in the Kansas Teachers’ Hall of Fame, an honor that Roth might have been able to accept in relative anonymity just a decade ago.
Now he’s learning to embrace the technology, and the connections that come along with being on Facebook.
“I work hard to be a curmudgeon … but it’s really fun, when I have time to allow myself to have that fun,” said Roth, who still regularly leads tours of the Kansas University field station north of town and the Baker Wetlands south of town, when he’s not having his 50 years’ worth of field journals digitized or tracking bats or observing birds or anything else.
Shuckahosee, who works these days as director of community involvement at the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization in Cleveland, is coming back to Lawrence in a couple weeks for a wedding. That’s when she plans to gather for an evening with friends from Lawrence High, South Junior High and elsewhere.
The idea that she’d be connecting with a former English teacher never could have happened without Facebook, and she’ll always be thankful for the help.
“I love it,” said Shuckahosee, who also counts former coaches Pat Grzenda and Reenie Stogsdill friends, on Facebook and otherwise. “Teachers, they’re like your parents: You never really think of them as real people; it’s taken me awhile to call Clenece, Clenece. … But Facebook has helped Clenece and me transform from a teacher-student dynamic to an adult friendship.”