Grew up in Virginia, John moved to Carroll County, MD, to be a teacher. John talks about being a teacher and his years teaching at Westminster High School.
INTERVIEWER: Describe the place you grew up in. What was it like? And has it changed over the years?
JOHN HOLT: I grew up in a little community called Strasburg, Virginia. And population maybe 3,000 at the time. And I lived about 10 miles outside of town, so I was kind of isolated from the rest of the world. And going back there now, it’s become kind of a bustling little community. A lot of new businesses have moved in, a lot of new construction, so it’s very different from where I grew up.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you decide to move over to Carroll County from where you grew up in?
JOHN HOLT: I came to Carroll County primarily because I’d been– I taught for three years in Virginia. Then I took a year off, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue teaching. I saw furniture for awhile. I worked my dad’s construction company. I worked on the farm.
And then I decided I really missed the classroom. And I had a friend at the time, he said, you know, come to Maryland, they pay better, it’s a good system. And I just on a fluke, applied to Carroll County. And I worked at Westminster for 14 years before I came to Winters Mill. Life is good.
INTERVIEWER: Working at Westminster, can you describe an experience of Carroll County like how has– like– just describe your teaching experience here there and how– just how you got to Westminster.
JOHN HOLT: At Westminster High School I came from teaching at that small Virginia school where we had five full time English teachers. And I walked into Westminster, and I thought I’d enter a community college because we had 21 full time English teachers at the time. We added offerings of courses I’d never heard of except maybe in a college level. I was just amazed. I was like a little fish out of water, like, what do I do? What do I do?
But after I got there, and then after the 14 years, I mean, it was a great experience. I got to teach pretty much all levels, different classes, public speaking, speech and debate, all the Englishes. And then we decided to open up Winters Mill High School, and the opportunity came up to come to a new school.
And I thought it would be nice to go back to a smaller school at that point. And I interviewed, I applied, I got it. And I’m glad I did, because I’ve loved it ever since.
INTERVIEWER: That’s good. I think– um, living here in Carroll County, what were your neighbors like, and was there any kind of local gatherings that you specifically recall? And could you tell me any stories that come to mind?
JOHN HOLT: Living in Carroll County was good. When I first came here, it was close to Westminster High School, and it was convenient because I was taking night classes, and I was teaching night school and all kinds of things. I liked the proximity to Baltimore, but it was far enough out.
But there just came a point where I decided I needed a little more distance. Because where my parents lived, I wanted to be a closer that way. Closer to my brother. So I moved closer to Baltimore just for proximity to family and traveled. I enjoyed my time in Carroll County, but you know, our life changes.
INTERVIEWER: Was there any stories or memories that come to mind when you lived here?
JOHN HOLT: Not so much.
INTERVIEWER: Make something up.
JOHN HOLT: I just remember a time the abominable snowman came to visit one day. And he brought the children like, snow days.
INTERVIEWER: How did that make you feel?
JOHN HOLT: It made me feel warm fuzzy inside to see the abominable snowman.
INTERVIEWER: Teaching– teaching stories– any– from transitioning from Westminster to here, how is the teaching experience? Where– did the students change? Were they the same? Did you get like– you understand what I’m saying?
JOHN HOLT: I understand what you’re saying. Transitioning from Westminster to Winters Mill I thought was going to be very easy, that I would just walk in and things would be just peachy keen. And when I left Westminster, at that point, I’d been teaching mostly juniors and seniors, a lot of the honors and AP courses. So I had a reputation. Kids knew what they were going to get when they walked into my class.
When I came to Winters Mill, we opened with just freshmen and sophomore. These kids didn’t know me from Joe Schmo on the street, and they couldn’t care less that they had Mr. Holt for whatever English it was. And it was a real rude awakening for me to have to go back and like, wait a minute. I have to re-establish who I am, my own identity. Kids, some of them were upset for being here because they had no choice because of the redistricting. So it was pretty tough for the first couple of months, honestly.
I felt like I had never worked so hard before to try to get kids in classes to buy in to what it was I was trying to sell them. So it took awhile. But then around October, things started to change, and people started to buy into being a Winters Mill student. And it was about I want to go back to Westminster. And so after that point, it really settled down and became a really great place to be.
INTERVIEWER: Now you’re the captain on the NHS, right?
JOHN HOLT: Advisor.
INTERVIEWER: You advise. So I guess, um, could you just tell what that– did you help the community? This is Carroll County, right? Guess, just tell what’s all that all about. Because I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of years I have no idea what that is. So just guess pretty much you can probably roll the rest of the video– just roll through that, because that’s pretty– that’s really good information to cover. Actually, could I film– could I do a documentary on that?
JOHN HOLT: Of course, we’re at the end of the year now. Most of our stuff is behind us.
INTERVIEWER: Well, anyways just tell how it works. How it started. How it became.
JOHN HOLT: When we opened the school, we knew coming on that we would have to advise clubs and be coaches, and all those things. So Mrs. Maurer and I decided we would work with the National Honor Society because we’re teaching most of the honor kids at that point. And Mrs. Maurer had 14 years practice with that. I think it was 14 or 18 actually at Westminster. So she was familiar with the organization.
And the National Honor Society is a national organization that recognizes scholarship, leadership, service, and character. And kids, when they achieve a certain GPA– for our county, it’s a 3.75 weighted, cumulative GPA– they are notified that they are eligible for membership in the National Honor Society. After that if they express interest, then they have paperwork that they have to submit. A committee reviews it to determine whether or not to accept them as members. And then after that, we bring them on to our organization, and Mrs. Maurer has advisers to that organization.
We work with them, and we do a lot of community service activities. And primarily, that is what we see organization doing, is community service. In the fall, we do– collect items for neighbors in need. We’ve done things for Carroll Food Sunday, raised money, made nations.
We work closely with Carroll Lutheran Village, where this fall we did a Fall Fest for residents. And all of our members went, and they had workstations or activity stations, and interacted with residents for one afternoon. And that was so successful, we decided to go back and do a Spring Fling, which again, the residents are just so kind to us and they just welcome us into their environment. And it’s nice for our kids to see another side of the community. And it really is kind of eye opening for them to be able to do the one-on-one activities with them.
So that’s been a really, really good activity for us. Recently, we just had a yard sale where we have National Honor Society families and also faculty members donate items. And then we offer it for sale to the community. And all the money that we raise either goes to a local community organization or we take actually, we take half of it for National Honor Society for running our service activities.
This year they voted to give it to our JROTC program for their leadership and character activities, because they needed some money to help out with some things there. And they came to us. And so we decided to donate half of those proceeds to them this year. We also do a Santa Letter activity around the holiday time with our sister school, Cranberry Station. So our NHS folks volunteer, and they write letters to kids, and they go visit with them.
We do Daffodil Days where we raise money for the American Cancer Society. We do a Relay For Life team. So it’s just– as much community activity and service as we can. Being out there promoting good character and leadership.
INTERVIEWER: How long has this program been going on? And do you get support from like, Carroll County in general? I guess the governor or something.
JOHN HOLT: It’s by school. I mean, you don’t have to have a National Honor Society. But you apply. You pay your membership fees. Again, it’s a national organization.
All of the county high schools are part of it, and then we have our own chapter, obviously. And so we can operate on Carroll County expectations, which fall under the national guidelines. And so that’s kind of how it operates.
INTERVIEWER: Could you– is there like, memorable experiences you know, from the past project you did with the– the Carroll–
JOHN HOLT: Probably about a week after our Fall Fest this– just passed this fall, I got a call from one of the residents. It was the husband of one of the women who had been at our Fall Fest. And he told me he wanted to thank me, and said how nice it was for our kids to come there, and how important it was for his wife and her friends and all of them, because we took a little time out of our day to come there to see them. And he was so appreciative, and so like, just incredibly excited by our presence. So that was a really incredible opportunity for us.
INTERVIEWER: Kind of think of something, because that’s really good. I’m pretty sure that’s all. So you’re definitely– I’m pretty sure you’re definitely going to be on.
Has there been times when being in this program has been difficult, or with some students– with their schedule-wise to meet the certain hours? [INAUDIBLE].
JOHN HOLT: It’s always– because the National Honor Society students are involved in everything. They’re the leaders of the school. They are in the athletics. They are honor students, and so they have full schedules.
So one of the- the hardest things to figure out was how best to hold committee meetings. And so Mrs. Maurer and I decided the first year we operated that we would have 7 o’clock in the morning meetings for all our committees, just to avoid conflicts with all the other things that these kids are involved in. And that’s the way we’ve operated. And it’s turned out to be pretty successful.
So genealogy has been an interest of mine for a long time. And so I’ve done some research on my– the Holt side. And we’ve traced the Holts coming back to Germany, probably about through the 1600s, because I did the whole DNA testing. So I know for sure what lineage I am.
And I do know that my earliest recorded ancestor that I know for sure, was an indentured servant to King George III of England. So when they actually came over in the second Germanic colony– whatever you call it– settlement, they kind of got hoodwinked. And to be able to get off the ship, King George was demanding money, which obviously, they didn’t have.
So to get off the ship, he demanded that they work for two or three years for them before they could have their freedom in this country. And so that’s what my one ancestor did. And so that was in Virginia. And then he moved into North Carolina for several generations.
Then I know that my family ultimately got to Georgia for quite awhile, and found its way to Missouri. And from there, my dad was born in Missouri and came to Virginia where he met my mom. And that’s where I was born. So we’ve just kind of like, been all over the place.
I think I definitely care about people, which is why I like doing what I do, teaching-wise. And probably one of the most memorable givebacks to me was the first or second year we were at Winters Mill, and my apartment in Baltimore got broken into. And I– I certainly told some of my staff members. But kids started finding out.
And so I had several families of my kids gave me money, cards, sent me notes. The NHS donated some money to me to help me out for things that I had lost at that point. So that was an incredible outpouring. That was totally unexpected, but what a nice gesture. It’s one of those rewards, absolutely.