Charles Parks — who spent 12 years as a student in the Carrier Mills-Stonefort School District and 34 years working there — is the distinguished alumnus who has been chosen to speak to students at Carrier Mills-Stonefort High School Tuesday.
The school's annual "Wall of Fame" event is 6 p.m. at the school to honor students who have achieved a 4.0 grade point average or higher on a 5.0 scale.
"I loved school," Parks said. "I went to school here all my life."
Growing up the son of farmer, Parks remembers being the first one to get on the school bus every morning and the last one to get off in the evening because he lived so far out of town. However, that didn't keep him from making it to school everyday, which he said he enjoyed because he loved the atmosphere he experienced in the Carrier Mills-Stonefort School District.
"I never wanted to leave," Parks said. "I moved a mile and a half away from where I was born."
After graduating high school, Parks attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, where he received a degree in Elementary Education. He said he was inspired to be a teacher by all the wonderful teachers who taught him as a child.
Parks was hired as a teacher in his hometown of Carrier Mills in 1978 and he started teaching in the same third grade classroom in which he was once a student.
After teaching third, fourth and fifth grade pupils at Carrier Mills-Stonefort Elementary School for eight years, Parks went back to SIU to receive his master's degree in school administration by attending night classes while continuing to teach. Around 1994, he was hired as the principal at the elementary school.
Though Parks said he sometimes missed being in the classroom with students, he also enjoyed the challenge of creating a comfortable educational environment for students who ranged in age from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.
"You have to create an atmosphere kids can enjoy," Parks said. "But you have to stress to them that education is important."
Parks said being on the administration side of a school taught him how important parental involvement is to a child's education and general well-being. Growing up as a child of supportive, loving parents, it always surprised him to see parents apathetic to their child's future.
Now a retiree, at 57 years-old, Parks continues to be involved in his community and raises livestock on his farm outside Carrier Mills.
Though he hasn't quite decided what he's going to say to students being honored at Tuesday night's "Wall of Fame" event, he knows he wants to stress the importance of attending school and taking education seriously.
Page 2 of 2 - "You'll get out of school what you're willing to put into it," he said.
Between 30 and 40 Carrier Mills-Stonefort High School students will be honored at the ceremony.