By Kim Walter
A Frederick County school librarian has been given an opportunity that only 50 educators in the country receive each year.
Horace Mann Insurance recently named Jef Mueller, Greenwood Mill Elementary School librarian, a 2013 Lincoln Fellow. The distinction comes with a one week, all-expenses paid trip to Springfield, Ill.,s to get a behind-the-scenes look at Abraham Lincoln's work and personal life.
Mike Noel, a Horace Mann representative in Winchester, announced Mueller's selection to faculty and fifth grade students at the elementary school Thursday afternoon. He said of the 50 educators participating, he was pleased that one was finally coming from his area.
"I've been with the company for 22 years, and this is the very first time that this school system and area have been represented," he said. "I also taught at James Wood High for several years, so I am truly proud."
The insurance company accepts nominations each year for educators who display intellectual curiosity, and would benefit from studying such a historical figure. Noel said Mueller immediately came to mind.
"What is also so great about Jef is that since he's a librarian, he literally can speak to every single person at this school about his experience," Noel said. "Everyone will benefit from this once in a lifetime opportunity."
Mueller will be attending the second Lincoln Fellow session in July, where he will get a special look at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The educator added that he will get to experience Lincoln's home, law offices and tomb in ways that aren't available to the general public.
As a librarian, Mueller said he's always hoping to learn new things, and researching presidents happens to be one of his favorite hobbies.
During the week, Mueller will collaborate with the other Fellows on a number of ways to use the new information about Lincoln in the classroom and across the curriculum.
Kristin Waldrop, the elementary school's principal, said she wasn't particularly surprised when she found out the Mueller had been selected for the trip.
"As we all know, Mr. Mueller is a very talented educator and he works hard every single day to teach new things to our students," she said.
She pointed out that students in all grades will benefit from added facts about the president, since his legacy is integrated in the teachings of kindergarten through fifth grades.
One student asked Mueller if he would take "lots of notes" while he was in Springfield, to which the teacher laughed.
"Yes, lots of notes. And a camera," he said. "I don't want to forget any piece of information."
Peter Vernimb, assistant superintendent for instruction, admitted that he too loves studying presidents and that Lincoln was no exception.
"Lincoln not only impacted our country, but also the way we teach and learn," he told the students. "Just like your principal walks around your classrooms everyday to make sure all is well, so did Lincoln during the Civil War. He would go out on the field and check in with his generals to know exactly what's going on."
Mueller said he's not totally sure how many new initiatives could come from his time in Springfield, but said he knows for sure that he will put together a very special presentation next year.
"I am going to use this to excite other people about Abraham Lincoln," he said. "I just hope to represent the county and the school system well, and impact as many students as I can when I return."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org