By Kimmie Collins
May 27, 2020
When Ripley Oblinger-Hammond wakes up in the morning, she isn’t in her house. She isn’t in a residence hall. She’s in the home of a host family in the Albany Park neighborhood in Chicago, Ill., one of the nation’s most diverse areas.
Oblinger-Hammond, a physical education major from Bloomington, Ill., is completing her student teaching at Theodore Roosevelt High School. Her host home allows her to live near her students, experiencing life as they might.
Oblinger-Hammond is passionate about supporting students at urban schools that may lack traditional resources. “I had friends in high school that I watched struggle with racism or socioeconomic issues,” she says. “I want to make sure minority students are not left behind.”
After she arrives at the school, every day becomes unique, though her life is guided by the general routine of school bells. Each morning, Oblinger-Hammond welcomes her students with a warm smile as they arrive for her first class at 7:45. She’s familiar with creating an inviting environment: while at Indiana State University, she served as a Welcome Team Leader for a year and as a resident assistant for two. The positions prepared her well for her career. “I learned so many skills, like dealing with conflict [issues] and building healthy relationships, organizational skills, and people skills,” she reflects, “things I will always remember.”
Oblinger-Hammond’s first period class is a freshman physical education course, and she easily guides the students through a series of activities, including a five-minute run and a game of soccer. Athletics are part of who she is. “I grew up playing sports,” she explains. “I always had to be in at least one sport, and I could never quit. I always had coaches that influenced me in a positive way.” Since her sophomore year in college, Oblinger-Hammond has been on the other side of the whistle, working with the West Vigo High School track and field team and increasing her confidence in her leadership abilities.
Myung-Ah Lee, a professor in the department of kinesiology, recreation, and sport, also played a significant role in Oblinger-Hammond’s current confidence in the classroom. She “bent over backwards” for Oblinger-Hammond, nominating the senior for National Major of the Year through the Shape America Award, a prestigious honor for physical education students. “She taught me everything I know about the sports aspect,” Oblinger-Hammond describes. “My class did a badminton unit, and I knew how to teach it from State. I would have felt lost three years ago.”
As Oblinger-Hammond continues through her school day, teaching three P.E. classes and two health classes, she experiences a range of
emotions, from irritation to inspiration. “There’s a learning curve,” she admits. “It’s impossible to make every student happy. Someone will be struggling, someone will be upset. Someone will like it, but it all can help you succeed.”
Despite the occasional frustration, “Students bring me joy,” Oblinger-Hammond smiles. They motivate her to succeed and to strive to be an even better teacher. “Relationships with people drive me on a day-to-day basis. I need relationships to be successful.”
Though she is the teacher, Oblinger-Hammond has learned valuable lessons from her students. “I thought my idea of success was the same for everybody- college, nice job, family,” she notes. “I’m learning that’s not everybody’s idea of success. I help them apply their ideas in my class to physical or mental fitness and accomplish goals each and every day.”
Each class presents Oblinger-Hammond with a new challenge: customizing her lessons to meet individual student needs. Half of her class has an individual education plan to help them prosper in the classroom. Some of her students don’t speak English as their first language. Other students simply don’t see the importance of education. “You have to take students that sometimes lack motivation and make sure they know someone cares about them,” she says. “It inspires me to be someone who takes my privilege and does something with it.”
When Oblinger-Hammond gets home from school, working out is her top priority because she wants to set a good example for her students. As she runs, she reminisces about her time at State. “State definitely gave me the purpose to do what I was doing,” she remembers, hoping she will be able to connect with students in the same way that State shaped her. Although she wasn’t heavily involved as a college freshman, she made up for it in her remaining three years, joining Alpha Sigma Alpha and serving as the sorority’s intramural chair and vice-president. Oblinger-Hammond had already made a difference in the lives of children before she stepped into the classroom through her involvement in State Dance Marathon. As Director of Communications, she played a key role in the organization’s fundraising for Riley Hospital for Children. She even cut and donated her hair at the 2019 event in support of patients who may have lost their hair due to medical treatments. “It’s a passion bigger than yourself and a drive you don’t know you have until you are in State DM,” she explains. “I walked away knowing I could do anything.”
For Oblinger-Hammond, “anything” included receiving two of the university’s highest honors, the Outstanding Sophomore Award and the Richard Landini Outstanding Junior Award the following year. “ISU gives so many opportunities to people,” she says fondly. “You can’t match the experience and the sense of community.”
When she finishes her evening exercise, Oblinger-Hammond is awestruck by how well her experiences at Indiana State and during her student teaching have prepared her for her career. After she graduates this year, she will be tackling a role at Englewood STEM High School in Chicago. “It’s a brand new school, so I’m super excited about that,” Oblinger-Hammond grins. “I want to do the challenge that others don’t. I want to see something new every day, and this experience provides that.” It’s a dream come true for her: she has always wanted to work in Chicago Public Schools.
As Oblinger-Hammond snuggles into bed at the end of the day, her head is filled with thoughts of her students. Her mind is in constant motion, reviewing the day’s events and brainstorming new ways to engage her students in the morning. Oblinger-Hammond drifts into a contented sleep, already eager to tackle tomorrow’s challenges and to make a difference in the lives of her students.