By Claire Couvillon '19
It was a Tuesday in late August of sophomore year at Randolph School. Mrs. Hillinck, a woman of very high expectations for her students, handed back our Honors Chemistry Chapter 4 Tests.Mrs. Hillinck believed her pupils should all be held to standards that pushed them to be the best. Looking down at my results, my stomach churned in disappointment. I had not received a grade worth acclaim from her.
As I tapped my foot, the clock slowly ticked its way to 11:35, the end of class. After it ended, I slowly shuffled my feet towards the front of the room. Timidly, I approached a teacher, who at the time, was as foreign to me as a lighter would have been to a caveman.
On her desk were binders piled high, packed full of class notes for all the material covered in Biology and Chemistry, her own personal archive. Among the notes were stacks of lab reports due that day. Mrs. Hillinck had already completed grading more than half. When I finally made my way to her desk, she had already started diligently prepping her notes for the next class. As I opened my mouth to speak, the butterflies danced around in my stomach.
“I think I need to drop this class,” I said as my voice quivered. I didn’t want to give up, but my grades were telling me otherwise.
She looked at me—her face, framed by short hair, bangs, and glasses—with an expression that was far from what I expected. Instead of a look of relief or expectancy, her expression was distraught. “I will not let you drop. You can do it. We will work together to help you through,” she said with confidence.
Although I did not know if this woman knew what she was talking about since she was still a stranger to me, I had no other person to believe. While I still struggled on Chemistry tests, Mrs. Hillinck was right: I passed her class. After completing many topic lessons, and having many talks with her on how to do the material, and many stressful tears, going to her was something I enjoyed doing.
One of the many quirky qualities I learned about Mrs. Hillinck is her love of knitting. She constantly spent the scarce free time she had knitting presents of socks, scarves, and hats.
When the school year came to a close, I asked, “Where are my knitted socks?”
In reply, in her usual sassy tone, said, “Honey, I won’t knit you any socks, but I will gladly teach you how to knit your own.”
While I was excited both to spend time with Mrs. Hillinck and learn to knit socks, I was under the impression it would never happen. I should have believed differently, for the last time Mrs. Hillinck gave me her word, she kept it.
As that summer came to a close, I found myself at school for basketball. On a summer’s day with nothing to do, two of her other students and I ventured into the Nichols Academic Building. We knew that if anyone would be working over the break, it would be Mrs. Hillinck.
As soon as the hope popped into our brains we were on the move. We climbed the three tiresome flights of stairs, stepping two-by-two, to get to her room. We sped to her room in excitement, curious to find the teacher we missed the most. Racing each other we finally arrived, completely out of breath.
There she was, with her black clogs and socks that always seemed to match her shirt, almost as if no time had gone by since I last saw her. Somewhat overwhelmed by our presence and just as excited as us, she said, “I talked to Mr. Liese [Head of Upper School] and Project Linus! [a non-profit organization that provides homemade blankets to children in need.] We can make our knitting club!” Her eyes glistened like a chemist who has correctly conducted a combustion.
Excited, to say the least, but unsure of how I would be able to follow through with creating a club, I said, “So what exactly do I need to do to make this happen?”
Without skipping a beat, Mrs. Hillinck told me, “You need to make a club statement to give Mr. Liese. Project Linus gave us yarn and we’ll be able to donate our blankets to children in need.”
I worked on a draft statement, crumpled it up, then started again. Each time, Mrs. Hillinck would work to send me in the right direction without ever showing signs of frustration. After I finally submitted our statement and got approval, the part I enjoyed the most read: “Knitting Club is an opportunity to get together with other members of the Randolph community in a relaxed and fun setting to learn the skill of knitting.”
With levels of excitement still rising, Mrs. Hillinck, classmates Maddie and Sarah Whelden, and I prepped for the Club Fair. We made colorful posters to hold at the Fair. They were pink and green with bold red letters reading, “JOIN KNITTING CLUB” and “HELP KNIT FOR PROJECT LINUS”. The day before the Fair was our equivalent of Christmas Eve. And on the day of the Fair, students filled the lunchroom like cattle, all aware of where they were heading, but struggling to get there through the crowd.
We patiently manned our table, unsure if anyone would even sign up. But many did, filling up two pages front and back of names of those interested in what we worked so hard to do. It was astonishing to see our idea respected and shared by others around us. When the Club Fair had ended, Mrs. Hillinck gave us bear hugs, and with tears in her eyes said, “Thank you for helping make this happen, it means a lot to me.” and I was glad that I was able to give something meaningful back to the woman who had contributed so much time and dedication to me.
Chemistry between students and mentors is a powerful incentive to learning and loving to be at school. Claire's story, written as a personal narrative in her AP English Language and Composition class, illustrates the kinds of bonds our teachers and students form throughout this K-12 community, through conversations, relationships, struggles, sportsmanship, and all of the daily interactions they have in class, advisory, and through extracurriculars.
"This is my second year at Randolph School and I have loved every second of it!" says Claire. "I play varsity basketball and indeed do knit in my free time for the Randolph Knitting Club. Randolph has given me opportunities for which I am thankful, and that continue to make me the best version of myself."
If you are interested in learning more about our school, please consider attending our January Open House.