Teacher, Mentor, Inspiration
By Niambi Davis
Easton High School Spanish teacher Jeremy Hillyard enjoys watching his students learn.
Easton High School Spanish teacher Jeremy Hillyard is a self-described reader, lifelong learner and keen observer of the workings of the brain. When he was introduced to the Spanish language in middle school in Avis, Pennsylvania, he discovered an affinity for the language. “It made sense to my brain,” he recalls. Inspired by a great teacher and a trip to Mexico, where he could speak Spanish in an authentic setting, he decided to continue learning the language.
Even so, when he arrived at Susquehanna University, Hillyard had no plans to major in Spanish. After testing out of the requirements of a language placement test, he took one Spanish class, changed his mind, and decided to major in Spanish with a minor in psychology. “It sounds like a weird combination, but they’re both connected to the brain,” he explains. He stayed at Susquehanna University to pursue a Bachelor of Education in Secondary Education and Teaching.
His journey to Talbot County began during a Sunday conversation with a student he tutored while at Susquehanna University. That student was Jake Griffith, son of Talbot County Public Schools Superintendent Kelly Griffith. At the time Griffith was principal of Easton High School and was looking for a replacement for the school’s retiring Spanish teacher. “You should email my mom,” Jake urged Hillyard.
Eleven years later, Hillyard says, “I’m where I’m supposed to be.” Being a teacher means more than providing instruction, he says. It also involves creating a connection with students by getting to know them and being authentic. “The kids will know if you’re faking it,” he says. “My students will tell you that I’m goofy, nutty, dorky and a little loopy.”
In 2016, he was named Easton High School Teacher of the Year. Through the Talbot County Public Schools Education Foundation’s Honor a Teacher Award, he also received the Desmond Fitzroy and Family Award which acknowledged his “tireless energy to bring out the best” in students.
Students say they can count on Hillyard to be there for them. “So much could be said about Mr. Hillyard — one of the best people I know,” says Jedreck Cardoza Monroy, a student whom Hillyard mentored. “He’s been there in the highs and lows, someone I hope to maintain in my life for a long time. An amazing and inspiring person to be around.”
Hillyard’s daily mantra is “to be the best version of yourself that you can be.” He says he strives to live by those words both inside and outside of the classroom. In addition to being the school’s adviser for the It’s Academic team, he is also a member of Talbot Mentors where he counsels Hispanic boys whom he strongly believes are an underserved population. During the pandemic, he has also volunteered for meal distribution at Easton Elementary School, where many Hispanic families were served. Volunteering “helped me as a human being to be a productive member of the community at a time when everything stopped,” Hillyard says.
At the same time, he was concerned about how children were learning while schools were closed, many having to use public spaces for connectivity. “Having a student sit in the library parking lot to do schoolwork was beyond anything I could comprehend,” he says.
Along with other members of the TCPS Education Foundation, Hillyard devoted his time to efforts that enabled qualified families to obtain Internet connectivity in the county during the pandemic. The foundation and Easton Utilities were named “Partners of the Year” for their successful collaboration to help local families bridge the digital divide.
When he’s not teaching, Hillyard enjoys cooking, photography, trivia and improvisational comedy performances. “It’s so much fun,” he exclaims. “And in the classroom, improv teaches you how to be a better listener and communicator.”
Hillyard says his positive relationships with his students keep him coming back to the classroom each year. He says he feels blessed to be able to watch his students grow and to play a part in their success. “In the end,” he says, “it’s all to make the world a better place.”