Henley retires after years of improving the skills of young readers at Rocky

Patti Carpenter

Rocky Mountain Middle School teacher Ilene Jewell Henley is retiring after 16 years teaching at Big Horn County School Dist. No. 1. Over the course of her 32-year teaching career, Henley noted that she has “worn many hats.” Most recently, she’s focused on helping young students strengthen their basic skills in reading and math at Rocky Mountain Middle School. 

As the wife of a military man, Henley has moved around in her life from Mississippi to California to Texas and then Wyoming. She had a lot to offer when she joined the staff at Burlington Schools 16 years ago, bringing many years of educational experience from other states.

Henley began her work in Burlington, where she remained for eight years, transitioning later to Rocky Mountain Middle School in Cowley where she’s taught for the last eight years. Henley taught reading, language arts and English as a second language. In 2021, she became the coordinator for the district’s school-wide Title I program, helping students improve their reading and math skills. With more than a decade of experience teaching Title 1, she took on this additional responsibility with ease.

“Title 1 is a federally funded program that helps schools meet the needs of students; by that, I mean filling gaps where they may have missed something in previous years,” she explained. Title 1 is focused on reading and math specifically.”

Henley couldn’t have been more suited for the position with a master’s degree in mathematics and several credentials in reading.

Title 1 is the largest federal aid program for public schools in the nation. Henley explained that because Rocky Mountain Middle School embodies a school-wide program, any student can get extra help in reading or math anytime they need it. Both Rocky and Burlington elementary schools have school-wide programs, as well. 

Henley said giving a little extra help to students struggling in these two core subjects, allows the students to develop the skills needed to meet the standards of success in a regular classroom setting. The program allowed her to work one-on-one and in small groups to give students a boost in these areas.

In addition to her Title 1 program duties, Henley taught two sixth grade reading classes, with about 15 students in each class. She said she’s employed different techniques to keep her students stay engaged like partner reading, following along with an audio book, working in groups or taking turns reading individually with the class. She said teaching the reading class helped her to recognize and assist students who needed a little extra help.

“Because of the Title 1 program I can move kids forward who are ready and give extra help to the kids who are struggling,” she said. “I have a special period where I can work with these students in small groups. We call it intervention time.”

Henley said the most rewarding part of teaching Tile 1 has been to see a student go from struggling to being able to function in a regular classroom. 

During her tenure Henley also taught English as a second language and was the district-wide coordinator for the English learner program.

In her retirement, Henley looks forward to traveling to her 18-year-old granddaughter’s college soccer games. Her granddaughter attends Casper College, which is nationally recognized in the sport of soccer.

“We will be the ones that follow every game,” she said. “We’ll be the grandparents in the crowd. They play everywhere, so it should be fun.”

Henley said she has nine grandchildren total, which she expects will keep her very busy. 

“We do camping, four-wheeling and we’ll be able to do a lot more travel now,” she said. 

Henley said she also looks forward to combing through family records to complete an ancestral history of her family. She also plans to take advantage of the extra time to enjoy crafts, using a shared craft room with her sisters.

“I’ve never had time to go play, so I’m looking forward to having that time,” she said.