Grace Berry recalls that when she was a child, watching her mother teach inspired her to not become a teacher. “I saw how hard my mom worked.”
Fortunately, parents Gloria and James Hill also instilled in Grace and her siblings a great appreciation for education and a great respect for educators. “They helped shape me into the person I am and the work ethic I have,” Berry said.
Today, Berry is a teacher and she works at the same Modesto school – Sonoma Elementary – as her mother. The women even share a classroom for typically 40 to 60 minutes once a week. They collaborate on Cross-Age Buddies, a program in which Hill’s fourth-graders mentor her daughter’s kindergartners. On Tuesday, the buddies practiced math by lying on the floor and measuring each other’s height using units such as dominoes and Hot Wheels cars.
When I got my credential, the thought of working together was pie in the sky. I thought for sure I would not end up at Sonoma. ... I feel like I’ve grown up here, it’s a second family to me.
Grace Berry, Sonoma Elementary teacher and Cross-Age Buddies collaborator with her mother
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The sessions together often include story time and art projects. Hill has been working with other teachers on Cross-Age Buddies for years but was delighted when her daughter got hired at Sonoma four years ago and joined her in the program. “She has a gift,” Hill said. “I know I’m saying that as her mom, but she has patience I don’t have, and an artistic flair she brings to her teaching.”
The resemblance between mother, 59, and daughter, 32, is striking. “I had a student one time last year who wasn’t paying attention and came up and started holding her hand, thinking she was me,” Berry said. Fourth-graders who come into Hill’s class usually are quick to figure out the relationship between her and Berry, while it takes most kindergartners longer, the women said. “My kids think it’s cool that I even have a mom, that I exist in the real world outside the classroom,” Berry said.
Teaching is a Hill family profession. Gloria’s husband, James Hill, was a resource teacher at Modesto High School. He died while daughter Grace was in high school. Grace’s sister has her credential in math and has taught, but now is focused on being a mom. And Grace’s brother is working toward becoming a teacher.
Since she was in third grade, Berry has been her mom’s helper, visiting her after school to do things such as set up the classroom for open-house nights. Aside from Sunday school, she never had her mom as a teacher, but said, “She’s my biggest role model as a teacher. ... My mom is so dedicated to her students. Everything we did when I was a kid, every vacation was a learning experience that she would take back to her classroom. We’d go places so she could take photos of historical things, she’d buy books for her classroom. ...
“Even though she was with us, she was always thinking about her students. I always thought she was a nut (to have her job on her mind all the time). I was, ‘Just give it up and relax.’ ”
But now that she’s a teacher, she’s so grateful for her mom’s experience and dedication, Berry said – especially since she’ll be teaching fourth grade herself next school year. “She’s the greatest resource I’ve ever known, a wealth of information, and I’ll need it. ... She’s been teaching 20-plus years and me only four. She’s done everything I have yet to do.”
I’ve always figured she was a natural teacher, and I told her that when she was younger. But she said no, she wanted to be an interior designer. ... But the first time she started subbing, she realized it, too.
Gloria Hill, on daughter and fellow teacher Grace Berry
Berry and Hill commute together to and from Sonoma Elementary and their Turlock homes. The trip gives the pair time to share ideas and, after the school day, decompress. “She’s always giving me ideas on how to better my classroom, better my teaching,” said Berry, who added that her mom also gives her the freedom to be her own person. “She does that with everybody. She’s consistently trying to help other teachers, collaborate with them. She cares so much for this school.”
It’s not a one-way street, Hill said; she learns from and is inspired by her daughter. “The technology, I go to her as my resource,” she said. “And the newer curriculum. She’s pulled me out of the time warp. You can get caught in a rut. She helps me look at things through a younger person’s eyes.
“Whenever we’ve had new curriculum come through, I have to really study it, while she grasps it very quickly.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327