hometown hero

VIDEO: Building self-confidence in Peoria students

Hill named Hometown Hero in educator category

Posted 12/26/22

When David Hill started teaching at Peoria High 40 years ago, the only high schools serving the city were his and Cactus High.

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hometown hero

VIDEO: Building self-confidence in Peoria students

Hill named Hometown Hero in educator category


When David Hill started teaching at Peoria High 40 years ago, the only high schools serving the city were his and Cactus High.

The school enrolled students from the Country Meadows neighborhood all the way up to Happy Valley Road, and even students who lived as far away as Wittmann, almost 40 miles to the northwest.

Lessons were taught on chalk boards and overhead projectors. And in the absence of digital devices and other modern technologies, learning was often hands-on, compared to the more specific curriculum and outcomes testing of today.

Hill said students lives revolved around Peoria High School — when they weren’t at a job at a farm or local business, they were at PHS.

“Today the community and the world has grown so much there are a lot more things going on besides what we offer at PHS. Good or bad, I believe the kids’ world has expanded outside of Peoria,” Hill said.

It was certainly a different time back then, when Peoria was a much more agrarian society, unencumbered by modern trappings. But encumbered by certain other trappings, so to speak.

Hill remembers his first year of teaching and how the school was surrounded by farmland except for Grand Avenue on the west, some houses to the south and around Varney Park. One day he was on his prep hour in his classroom on the second floor. It was a nice day, and he had his door open, he recalled.

“While prepping a lab for my next class, I heard strange noises coming from outside. I went to take a look and the local farmers were driving a herd of sheep down 83rd Avenue to load on the train. How cool was that? Small town. That happened a couple more times in my early years there,” he said. “It is still awesome today to look out to the north and see them cutting and bailing hay on the Bissinger farm just to the north of campus.”

“Skinny,” as he is affectionately known by both students and fellow educators, began teaching in 1983. He has taught science, chemistry, speech and debate, and retired from teaching in 2013, but has continued as an employee wearing many hats, ranging from working in the bookstore to announcing at athletic events.

In a sense, Hill has come full circle, not just in his participation on the committees to celebrate Peoria High School’s 100th and 125th anniversaries, but in his connections with his students, many of whom have gone on to lead successful lives thanks to his guidance. Sarah Shows, PHS bookstore manager and former speech student of Hill, credits him with “setting her on a path of self-confidence” that has served her well throughout her life.

Her authority is undisputed — being the current bookstore assistant, Hill now serves under Shows, a case of the student becoming the master.

She said growing up, Hill helped her find her voice so she understood she I had something worth saying.

“He literally saved my life as I was so shy when I entered his speech class as a freshman. I couldn’t do anything but stand silent or go into a series of giggles when I stood up to give a speech. I took the class to remedy this condition, and through patience and a good set of guidelines to follow, I overcame my fear and enjoyed every class I took in high school and have held many jobs since that required me to present myself with confidence,” she said.

Former student Will Kepley, a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army, added that Hill gave him the self-confidence to study, analyze, and think on his feet. Kepley continues to stay in regular contact with his former mentor.

For his work in the Peoria community, Hill has been named the Peoria Independent Hometown Hero in the Educator category.

The Hometown Heroes Awards are a celebration of individuals who live or teach in the city, and Peoria businesses for their local achievements and distinguished contributions to the community.

Hill will be honored at an awards luncheon next year.

In partnership with the city of Peoria, he has also beem interviewed by the city and aired on Channel 11.

Hill said that in the early days of his teaching career, teaching techniques were more hands-on and included dropping basketballs from the second floor of Old Main to experience the laws of Physics and students mixing graduated cylinders of chemicals to make observations in chemistry.

He started out as an assistant advisor for the MESA (math, engineering, science achievement) program in 1998, an organization geared to encouraging underrepresented minorities to consider college, and later took over the junior MESA program for the district, which pulled 6th-8th grade students from Peoria High feeder schools.

MESA advisor emeritus Judith Shipley has known Hill for more than 30 years.

They worked together at Peoria High School as science teachers and as MESA advisors.

Among other things, Hill helped students in the physics and engineering concepts with each project, Shipley said.

“He has been dedicated to helping students achieve their goals. He works side-by-side with the students,” she said. “I have never worked with a more dedicated teacher and mentor. ... I am proud to have been his partner with this award winning program.”

Peoria City Councilmember Vicki Hunt served alongside Hill for 16 years at Peoria High School.

She said they strove to mentor and enhance the lives of students, and Hill particularly contributed to an overall atmosphere of fun and learning at PHS.

“I watched him dress in green and gold clown costumes, Halloween costumes, and ride around campus on a skateboard,” Hunt said. “When asked why he dressed up in green and gold on Fridays, he answered that he wanted to imbue kids with school spirit, to make them feel like part of a family, to put a smile on faces, and to be seen outside the classroom as a ‘real’ person who could dress up and have fun — not someone who was just there to pick up a paycheck.”

Get to know Hill more here.