EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Jerry Meister is hanging up his T-square and his measuring tape and leaving the lesson planning behind when he officially retires Sept. 28 from Eagle Academy after a 27-year teaching career that he admits has been a great run.
A Penn State graduate with a degree in health and wellness, his career began in the wellness field and he did well but he didn’t love it. So, he kept searching until he did love it. His career took some twists and turns, and Meister said he found himself working as an aide in the William Davies School, and he knew teaching was his calling. He went on to get certified in health education, elementary education and special education.
Meister spent nine years in the Davies School before moving to Oakcrest High School. He also taught at the Duberson School for two years and along the way taught summer school in Mays Landing, was a pre-school handicapped teacher in Linwood and has been an adjunct professor at Atlantic Cape Community College, where he taught health education.
But Meister found his niche at Eagle Academy, where he has been a special education teacher and the work place coordinator. “We sent students to other schools to see if there was something that would be a good fit for them. We placed students in the cafeteria, library, working with the art teacher. It has been great,” Meister said. “Our kids have worked at Patcong Farms and at Boardwalk Honda, we have gotten them involved in places where they can see if they like it, and they work hard, they can be successful.”
“We get the kids working with their hands, creating something that will last,” said Meister. Walk around the Eagle Academy campus, and the work of Meister’s students is all around. Benches in front of the building made with reclaimed wood has been an important start. Bike racks, a bocce court and an outdoor classroom are all made by Meister and his students.
“We worked with local builder Jack Aspenberg who coordinated building a shed and benches for the EHT Arboretum. He helped to instill in the kids the value of learning a trade, that is just something awesome, and the pride the students take in seeing their completed work, that has been very special.”
Working with his hands in nothing new to Meister, outside of teaching he makes stand-up paddle boards and the paddles, skate boards along with custom-made furniture under the Plain and Simple brand name.
The teacher’s days on the job are winding down, and it will be bittersweet next week when he has to say good-bye, but not just for him.
Eagle Academy Director Bud Smith said of Meister: “They say no one is irreplaceable, but Jerry is close to being just that. He puts his heart and soul into this job and his students every single day,” Smith said. Meister said he has loved his job, and at the same time is looking at what the next chapter of his life will bring. Reflecting back on his time working with students, Meister smiled and said, “This is a dream job if your heart is in the right place.”
Jerry Meister and his wife, Tracey, live in Linwood with their two sons, Ben and Luke.