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Everyday Hero: Wendy Rollie

Johnsburg Jr. High teacher goes above, beyond to be there for students

Wendy Rollie has been teaching at Johnsburg Junior High School for over a decade and started a mini-course called "Paying it Forward" in which students pick a project to help out every semester.
Wendy Rollie has been teaching at Johnsburg Junior High School for over a decade and started a mini-course called "Paying it Forward" in which students pick a project to help out every semester.

Inside and outside the classroom, Johnsburg Junior High School students know Mrs. Rollie.

If she’s not teaching them, she’s coaching them or stopping by one of their extracurricular activities to cheer them on.

To Wendy Rollie, teaching is about being there for students.

“It’s not just an open-door policy, it’s an open-life policy,” said Rollie, who’s taught in Johnsburg for 13 years, having gone to school there herself from seventh grade through high school graduation.

Rollie went on to earn her teaching degree at Illinois State University, knowing all along she’d want to return to her hometown, where she and her husband, Jeremy, are raising 1-year-old Linkin.

“It’s just a small, kind community, and I wanted my kids to grow up here,” she said.

Her devotion to Johnsburg, especially the youth, and her upbeat personality are what earned her an Everyday Hero nomination from fellow Johnsburg Junior High School teacher Kolin Harbecke.

Harbecke said Rollie takes on student situations that surpass the regular duties of any teacher.

“She has become a teacher that students adore, which is easy to see by the massive amounts of graduated students that come back to visit her every year,” he said.

Rollie taught math and reading for about seven years in Johnsburg before switching to physical education, a move she made because she likes change and wanted to see more students more often.

“In the PE profession, you see all the kids every day,” she said. “You have a different relationship with all of them.”

It’s tough to squeeze in all she wants to do in the roughly 40 minutes of class time she gets with them daily, though.

By the time they change into their PE clothes, that leaves about 30 minutes. She aims for at least 25 minutes of heart-pumping physical exercise for them daily, she said, with the students usually choosing the activities.

Rollie has coached basketball, track and volleyball in past years and is coaching volleyball this year.

She also heads up a mini-course she suggested called “Paying it Forward” in which students pick a project to help out every semester. They’ve walked to the Johnsburg Fire Department to give firefighters thank you cards and baked goods, prepared a get well package for a custodian who underwent heart surgery and donated to Feed My Starving Children, a nonprofit group that works to eliminate starvation throughout the world.

It can be tough to balance it all, including her young family, she said, but she wants to do more, especially after the Everyday Hero nomination.

“I’m honored someone would think that highly of me. I kind of feel like I have to prove myself. … I’m just really big into if I can affect someone’s life in a positive way, it makes me a happier person. I like putting others first,” she said.

“There needs to be 48 hours in a day, but you make the time.”

All of these extras – including stopping by academic and sporting competitions she’s not involved with and even chatting with students when she sees them in the grocery store or anywhere else around town – give her more time to get to know students, Rollie said.

And that’s what it’s all about, she said. The better she knows them, the more she can be there for them.

“You can tell when a kid walks through the door if something’s going on by their expression,” she said. “If they’re here with me, I want them to know they’re safe.”

Having grown up with a supportive family – all of whom remain in the area – she said she never has known what it feels like not to have “that person.”

“My biggest thing is I try to reach out to those kids that maybe don’t have that person,” Rollie said. “I want them to know I’m here for them.”

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