The single-most significant factor that attracted Kristina Wilhelm to seek a teaching contract with Simonsen Ninth Grade Center is family. And that sense of family kept her at Simonsen for the better part of her five-year teaching career.

The aging, inauspicious building has been bursting at the seams for many years, packing in approximately 650 students and 50 or so administrators, faculty, and staff this past school year alone. Jefferson City Public Schools has struggled at times to make the building keep up with the needs over the years until the funding finally became available to build a second high school. The new school will help alleviate overcrowding at Jefferson City High School (JCHS), which educated nearly 1,600 students grades 10-12 during the 2018-2019 school year, and eliminates the separate ninth-grade setting. In the fall, eighth-graders from Lewis & Clark Middle School (LCMS) will attend ninth-grade at JCHS, and current ninth-graders who are LCMS alum will attend tenth grade at JCHS. Eighth-graders from Thomas Jefferson Middle School (TJMS) will begin ninth-grade at Capital City High School (CCHS) — still under construction — and current ninth-graders, who are also TJMS alum, will be tenth-graders at CCHS. The current Simonsen family is likewise making the move to CCHS, embracing this new challenge together with only minor staffing changes.

Generations of Jaybirds hold fond memories of Simonsen spanning its more than 100-year history. The schoolhouse sits atop one of the highest points in Jefferson City on a parcel of land that has been home to a public school in this community since 1836. The neighborhood appears on the National Historic Register as “Hobo Hill,” having roots going back to the Civil War.

“It’s a hidden gem,” Wilhelm observes. “Everybody’s like, ‘That looks like an old crappy building.’ But that family and the warmth inside is just amazing. My husband asked me, ‘You want to move to this building?’ Then he’s looking around and says, ‘Your room is half the size of what you had.’ I know.

Kristina Wilhelm follows the Simonsen tradition.

‘You don’t have near the equipment in here.’ I know. ‘What is it?’ It’s the people here. The people here make you feel completely different. They lift you up, instead of beat you down.” And, she adds, “We have really cool technology here, all the premier stuff — iPads, the ChromeBooks — and we have the support to back it up. I’m happy.”

In college Wilhelm had contemplated teaching special education, but thought she wouldn’t be able to balance her home and school life in that capacity fearing she would become too involved — that it would be too consuming if she were to have a family of her own. Her adviser suggested that life science may be a better fit because she has a medical background from working in pharmacies.

“It was better for me because this still consumes me, but not quite as much as if it were special ed,” Wilhelm said. “I kind of get the best of both worlds because I get my CWC (Class Within a Class), but it’s just in science, so it’s that subject the whole time and I get to help all of the students. My CWC class is usually my favorite every year. They just always make it so much fun. I enjoyed it with Mrs. [Challis] Holland, the special ed teacher, and Mrs. [Toni] Scully and Mr. [Jim] Coy, our paraprofessionals in that class this year. It’s also one of my biggest classes!”

After graduating from college in December 2014, Wilhelm accepted a long-term substitute teaching position at Simonsen — just a temporary thing until something full time came open.

“That’s when it sucks you in,” she said. “Then I wanted to be a part of this building and everything they were doing.”

She initially accepted a teaching position at the school where she had done her student teaching, then jumped at the chance to move to Simonsen when an opening became available. Most recently, Wilhelm was named Science Department Lead Teacher for CCHS.

It’s the whole package, she explains, “They are like family here. Everybody supports each other. They come by and check on each other. It was so awesome — even just being a sub. They were like, “Hey, if you need us, here’s our numbers, we’re just right upstairs. If you need somebody, send someone up” — and there’s a teacher right there. We all ate lunch together every day. Every morning we would talk. We could plan stuff together. Everyone is just so willing to help each other out. It is family. It is nice. You know you have people you can rely on. My first year here we actually did a family breakfast up in POC (Perspectives of Citizenship, which has expanded rooms). . . .They put it out buffet style. It was one big long table and we all sat together as a family and we had our beginning of the year kickoff. It’s stuff like that. We have the barbecue. It’s just doing family type things to create the family atmosphere and they really do a good job. There’s just so much support and we’re in it together. That’s the whole mentality here and it’s awesome.”

For the past three years, Wilhelm has been teaching in room 102, the same classroom where she spent that long-term sub assignment filling in for Lindsey Schwarzer, a physics teacher, who was on maternity leave with her first child at the time. Then came 2019. Baby boys were born to two separate math teachers in February. In March, a POC social studies teacher gave birth to a baby boy early in the month, followed a FACS (Family and Consumer Science) teacher birthing a baby girl by month’s end. April was  quiet. But, in May, a math teacher pregnant with fraternal twins due in June, gave birth to a girl and a boy the first week of May. Then, the special education CWC teacher in her fourth-block class, who was also due in June, delivered her own baby boy the next week.

POC English teacher, Amanda Moreland, and Wilhelm met in the hallway one day in April. The conversation went something like this:

Moreland: Hey, I hear congratulations are in order! Your kids have been spreading the good news. Was it a surprise?

Wilhelm: No, we’d been trying. It seemed like the math teachers were having all the luck. So, I started hanging on the third floor with them. Next thing you know, we’re pregnant!

Wilhelm is on pace to give birth in October to the first baby born to the new CCHS family. Her daughter, Amelia, will just be turning 3 and, at the moment, likes to kiss her mommy’s belly.

One of Wilhelm’s students remarked, “Gosh, all the teachers are pregnant.”

“I told him, ‘Well, that sort of happens when you’re all close in age. The first few years everybody’s getting married. Then, everybody’s having babies. Then, we’re all going to retire together,’ ” she laughs, “ ‘and, then, I don’t know what you’re going to do?”

Wilhelm sees the family atmosphere and support that drew her to Simonsen carrying over to CCHS because the same core people will be in place. She and Megan McReynolds plan to continue their roles as MSTA building representatives at CCHS. She said there will be teachers who have worked in other buildings coming aboard as CCHS expands, who will be excited to join the former Simonsen family because “they know.”

“At least that’s my optimistic point of view,” she adds.

While saying goodbye to the cherished old building on May 22, that final day of classes — where Wilhelm has learned to crawl behind counters to open windows (even though you’re not supposed to) and to deal with other little building quirks — was certainly bittersweet, Wilhelm is embracing the future. She knows her Simonsen family is bringing legacy and new life with them to CCHS when that bell rings for that first time on Aug. 27. 

Visit Bunker Hill in 2019