Hays teacher selected for Jake Gill’s Country Music Classroom Initiative

India Yarborough
Jean Hertel, a preschool teacher at Early Childhood Connections in Hays, plays on an outdoor drum set with one of her students in the school's playground area. Hertel was recently selected to participate in country musician Jake Gill's Country Music Teacher Classroom Initiative, which helps teachers secure needed school supplies.

When Torie Richmond heard about country musician Jake Gill’s Country Music Teacher Classroom Initiative, one local educator came to mind.

Richmond reached out to the country music artist via social media to nominate Jean Hertel, a preschool teacher at Early Childhood Connections in Hays, which is part of Hays Unified School District 489.

Hertel recently found out she was chosen to be a part of that classroom program. It came as a surprise, as she hadn’t even heard of the initiative until Richmond gave her a call.

“She said, ‘I just got contacted by Jake Gill, and you’re going to be getting a call from him,’ ” Hertel said.

Gill started his Country Music Teacher Classroom Initiative earlier this year to help teachers secure school supplies that they often have to dip into their own pockets to buy.

“It’s a great thing that he’s wanting to do to help teachers,” Hertel said. “I appreciate it because I know there are a lot of things teachers need (that will) help them work with students better. He’s really helping to provide that.”

The way it works is people from across the country nominate teachers. Then, Gill selects program recipients and asks them to create an Amazon wish list of desired school supplies and project materials. He then circulates those wish lists on social media, asking his followers to help purchase the needed items.

“He’s awesome, and he’s always trying to help somebody,” Richmond said of the Hutchinson native.

Richmond found out about the initiative through a Facebook post and also heard about it through her mom, who is a big fan of Gill’s. That’s when Richmond decided to send in her nomination.

Richmond said Hertel had been a great instructor for her two girls, Ryenn and Harper.

“She’s just always been there for both girls, made the (younger) one feel welcome when she wasn’t even in school yet,” Richmond said. “And then she just concentrates on certain things that I feel are important.”

Richmond wanted to pay that kindness forward.

She also gained a greater appreciation for teaching, she said, after keeping her kids home for the first couple weeks of the school year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I realized I cannot be a teacher,” she said, laughing.

Through the classroom initiative, Gill also offers a song-writing session — either in person or via Zoom — to each teacher that is chosen to participate. Students in a teacher’s class select a topic of interest and together as a class, Gill helps them write a song that could be shared with their school or community.

“Song writing combines the therapeutic benefits of music with the creative release of bringing our thoughts to words,” Gill said. “Today’s child is experiencing more stress and trauma daily, than in times before. To be able to express their thoughts and feelings in a healthy manner is crucial to a thriving development.”

Hertel hopes Gill is able to do the song-writing session with her class in person, as the preschool has an outdoor courtyard area in which they could social distance.

“I think the kids will absolutely love it,” she said. “Music is a big part of what we do and how we teach.”

Hertel has been an educator for “a while,” as she began working with Head Start shortly after her own daughter went through an affiliated program about 27 years ago. And Hertel loves “everything” about being a preschool teacher.

“I love the excitement that the kids have,” she said. “They come in, and they are so ready to learn and just absorb everything. I love when I see that they get a concept and all of a sudden that light bulb comes on and their face just lights up.”

When it comes to Gill’s classroom initiative, Hertel said, she is grateful Richmond thought of her.

“I can’t describe it,” Hertel said. “I had her as a parent for her older child and then got her back for her next (child), and I was just shocked when she thought of me. It’s quite an honor that she did that.”

The Amazon wish list Hertel created as part of the program can be found online at https://amzn.to/3p6gjvS. All items purchased through the list are shipped directly to Hertel at Early Childhood Connections.