Everybody Has A Story
, 2014

Everybody Has A Story

89-year-old still teaching & helping wherever she can

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Helen Cover tutors Lancaster Middle School algebra student Kiera Lee. Photo by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

You’d think finding time to interview an 89-year-old would be an easy task. She should be relaxing, rocking on the front porch swing and enjoying her golden years with little to do.

That’s not the case with Helen Cover of Lively. Retirement hasn’t slowed her down.

“I have to check my calendar” was the response when I called to set up an interview. “Let’s see, on Monday I’m at the school, Tuesday the Lancashire and Thursday again. On Friday, I’ll be at the museum in the morning, maybe then.”

Cover, who graduated from State Teacher’s College in Farmville (now Longwood University) in 1945, started teaching math in Lancaster County public schools in 1969. She retired in 1989 but continued to substitute teach and homebound teach for several years until she joined the instructional team at Bethel United Methodist Church’s preschool. She stopped helping at the preschool about eight years ago when she said “it got to be too much. As I got older, getting up and down from those little chairs and lifting the children was too much for me. I was too old.”

Old is not a word I’d use to describe Cover, who taught me algebra way back in 1982. She looks the same.

“My students are so good to still remember me and speak to me when they see me,” she said. “That’s the nicest thing about teaching here 20 years.”

Indeed, almost all the students who attended Lancaster High School during her tenure passed through one of her math classes. And now, she’s helping some of the children of her former students as a volunteer math tutor at Lancaster Middle School.

When Cover stopped working at Bethel eight years ago she started volunteering at LMS, where she gives a little extra instruction to pre-algebra and algebra students.

“Oh, I’m not as good as I used to be. Everything’s done on a calculator or computer now, but I can still teach positive and negative numbers. Those rules don’t change.

“I’ve helped many children in my home and didn’t charge a penny,” she added. “Of course, not as many now as when I first retired. But if their parents will bring them to me, I will help.”

Cover also volunteers at the Lancashire Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center in Kilmarnock, helping elderly residents play Bingo on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. One Friday a month, she volunteers at the Kilmarnock Museum.

But on Mondays, she is helping math students. That seems to be her passion.

As a retired teacher, she has a few opinions about how schools and learning have changed, not only in Lancaster but across the country. The new Standards of Learning (SOL) tests are good for “transfer students,” she said. “Because the idea is if a school in Northern Virginia is teaching for the SOLs, when that student moves to another school he will be in line with what that school is doing.”

However, teaching to the test “is not good if that’s all we teach to,” she said. “We have to teach the fundamentals first and then to the SOLs. It’s too demanding for our teachers and there’s not enough creativity for the teachers.”

Cover, who is proudest of being accepted when she was a first-year teacher into the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, is still active in a retired teacher organization. She also helps promote higher education as the committee chair of the Helen W. Cover Scholarship Fund at Bethel United Methodist Church. She took over the committee 20 years ago when the then Bethel Scholarship Fund was struggling to survive.

“I went to the powers that be to ask for money in the budget for the scholarship,” she said. “Now, in my opinion, it’s one of the biggest missions of the church.

“On the fifth Sundays, and there are four of them, we have Dollars for Scholars. I initiated that giving program,” she said.

Renamed after her about 15 years ago, the fund awarded nine scholarships last year. Money is available to both graduating high school seniors and current college students.

“I’m very proud of what that has become,” she said.

She’ll continue to chair the committee as long as she is physically able. She’ll also volunteer wherever and whenever she can as long as she can. Teaching, on one level or another, is something she’ll probably never give up...and shouldn’t.

“As long as they find me helpful, I will help,” she said.

The world could use a few more 89-year-olds like her.

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