Black Cone retires, leaves impact

Alyssa Gibler

With every class of graduating seniors goes a handful of retiring teachers, or in the case of RBHS’s 2016 senior class, just one.
For 49 years Jennifer Black Cone has been a member of CPS. At the age of five, she traveled through Parkade Elementary School, then to then Jefferson Jr. High School and finally to Hickman High School where she graduated. During college she stuffed and licked envelopes for the superintendent’s secretary, then student taught at JJHS. Cone graduated from the University of Missouri — Columbia and got a job at RBHS, and remained for 31 years.
Another staff member left a job mid-school year just as Black Cone was leaving MU, so the former Kewpie found a home as a Bruin and began her teaching job Jan. 2, 1985.
“I thought it would be a good chance to practice interviewing,” Black Cone said. “To my amazement, I was offered the job.”
Though what she teaches changed in the past three decade she started as a drama teacher, but this year she began teaching creative writing, public speaking, speech and debate — her desire to connect with students and her peers has not.
“You fall in love with Rock Bridge when you work here,” Black Cone said.
When senior Shray Kumar first met Black Cone, he wrote her off as just another teacher who lived in her own bubble. However, as Kumar spent more time with her as his debate teacher, he discovered there was much more.
“She not only understands students, but actively tries to make things better for them,” Kumar said. “She’s a teacher that will give you the tools you need to succeed and grow, but will allow you to do so at your own pace.”
As a debate coach, Black Cone took a hands-off approach, Kumar said. She knew what was the best for the team and let the students take charge, but offered help if needed.
Not only did Black Cone have the professional aspect of her job in lock, but she also made an emotional connection with students that made her classes all the more enjoyable.
“She’s always in a good mood and elevating everybody’s mood with her,” Kumar said. “She understands that a small smile can make a person’s day, and I admire her for that.”
Black Cone said she likes to stay positive, but that retirement has come with a bittersweet taste because she is leaving a job she loves, despite moving on to something new.
“I’m retiring from full time,” Black Cone said, “Not because I want to but because it’s financially responsible.”
If Black Cone stayed at RBHS, she would make less money than if she took her full retirement income and started working a different job. With money coming from both retirement and a part-time position, she said she will be in a better place economically. Still more than ready to continue her teaching career, Black Cone hopes to work an hour or two at RBHS. If no openings are available, she said she has connections at Columbia College.
For now, when she looks back on her memories, it brings tears to her eyes. While she’s sad to leave, she said she is happy to have experienced them. Remembering adventures with past teachers and students takes Black Cone all the way back to her first year of teaching.
She was returning to school after a speech and debate tournament. It was late at night, and after all students left, she was alone with Terry Overfelt, who taught Children’s Theater and Readers’ Theater at the time. Overfelt had an ice pick in her hand to make it easier to get the bus in the tight space during the winter months.
“Back then we had to park the bus behind the Career Center,” Black Cone said. “While we were back there, we noticed a car parked on the sidewalk.”
She and Overfelt drove to the car in the bus, and the car sped off.
“So we started chasing them in the bus,” Black Cone said. “We took the circle drive and cut them off.”
The car stopped, and its window rolled down revealing a couple of students. Overfelt rolled down the window on the bus and confronted the teens.
“No malice, I assume?” Overfelt asked.
“Huh?” one of the kids replied.
“No malice?”
“Huh?”
“No trouble?”
“No!” the driver said.
Black Cone and Overfelt let the kids go. As she reminisces on the incident, Black Cone realizes what it must have looked for two teachers driving a bus to chase down a car, but what really must seemed ludicrous was the sight of Overfelt carrying an ice pick.
“If it wasn’t for those moments,” Black Cone said, “I wouldn’t have been here for 31 years.”
From chasing kids in the parking lot her first year to preparing for retirement in her last, Black Cone says she knows she’ll fall out of the loop of current CPS teachers, but she looks forward to seeing her former retired friends at what she calls ‘the retired teachers’ cult.’ Black Cone said the ‘cult’ is just a group of retired teachers that get together for book clubs and other activities.
“They don’t let you be a part of it until you retire. I just can’t wait to go be a part of it with them,” Black Cone said. “I’ve still got another 20 years in me. I’m just looking for the next adventure.”