Thank You, Teachers: Joines stays busy with Polo students

Coach and teacher Emily Joines is a leader on and off the court at Polo High School.

Emily Joines says she loves sleep, and also spend time with family and friends. One look at her schedule and duties, though, makes one wonder how she gets much time to do either of those things.

A jack of all trades in Polo, Joines is a high school PE, Health and Driver’s Ed teacher, as well as the varsity volleyball coach. She also serves as the middle school athletic director and coaches boys and girls basketball at that level, and volunteers at Polo wrestling events and Forreston-Polo track meets.

And her participation in extracurricular events is just as extensive. She helps out as a student council advisor and runs the Varsity Club, helps out with organizing prom, and also arranges several activities where the students get out and help in the community.

“I don’t know what she does in her free time, because I don’t know if she has any,” Polo senior Courtney Bushman said, shaking her head. “She really does a lot around the school and for the students.”

Joines is in her 12th year at Polo High School, and says she’s involved in all of those activities and sports because she loves being busy.

She also said that there are a lot of times when she’s found it hard to say no when asked if she wants to be involved in something for the students.

“I did have a hard time saying no to things, but I am getting better,” she said with a laugh. “I said ‘no’ to yearbook when I first started; I like to take pictures, but I was coaching three sports at the time, and I had taken Varsity Club and student council, and I thought yearbook was probably too much, because that one’s a time-consuming thing.

“As to how I got involved, I do like to start things like that. I have ideas from when I went to college and when I was in student council in high school, so I came in with some new things that I enjoy – I really enjoy everything I do – but those were my fault, I will take the blame for piling those on myself.”

Joines went to high school at Shiloh H.S. in Hume, Illinois, then got her Bachelor’s degree at Millikin University in Decatur. In high school, she was a member of the student council and National Honor Society, and got her first taste of helping out in the community.

A cross country runner in high school, Joines continued her extracurricular involvement at Millikin. Because of her love to help and also stay busy, she brought several ideas with her when she came to Polo.

“Our student council and NHS were super involved in high school, and I got involved in Special Olympics in college, and I still wanted to figure out how to bring it here,” she said. “I just think it’s fun to bring new things to the kids and kind of show them that the world isn’t so small. You’re in a tiny town, but you can see things bigger than you.”

One of her favorite activities in that vein is Polo’s Field Day, an event that brings special education students from the Ogle County Education Cooperative and the Dixon School District to Polo High School, where the students can interact and make new friends while having fun.

“We started a few years ago and stopped it for COVID, and now this is our first year back at it. We invite Special Olympic athletes, students that are in OCEC and Dixon special education, to come to our school and we have modified games for them,” Joines said. “It kind of opens our students’ eyes a little bit and brings in some inclusivity. It’s just kind of a fun thing that I think is really beneficial to our students, and it’s a fun day.”

Activities include a modified form of volleyball, where each side has 10 players on the court instead of six; a regular beanbag toss; Giant Jenga, where the pieces are much bigger than the table game; a paper airplane toss; and a parachute game.

She said the activity was started by the student council in 2016 or ‘17, and credits her fellow advisor Gina Cole and OCEC’s Tabitha Thomas with helping make it a success.

“I’m more of the hype man; Mrs. Cole is much more the one who says, ‘Logistically, what can we do here?’ This is what we came up with,” Joines said. “Thankfully, Tabitha Thomas at OCEC is really into it, so they’ve always had two buses full of kids come in, so that’s Oregon, Forreston, Rochelle, some Polo kids have been in OCEC before. So I’m glad it started out strong and we’ve been able to maintain it.”

Another activity that Joines loves is the student outreach to the nearby nursing home. The students collect items of need for the elderly residents, then deliver them around the holidays.

Before COVID, the students also used to visit the home occasionally and just spend time with the senior citizens.

“We get big crossword puzzle books or shampoo, pillows, slippers, socks, that kind of thing. So during the holiday season, we collect all those things and deliver them to the residents. It’s just a fun thing,” she said. “We sang carols to the residents this year – we maybe have one student council member who’s in choir, and there’s a reason for that – but these kids sang Christmas carols and the residents just kept asking for more. They didn’t want more gifts, they just wanted us to sing again. We had to tell them that we only knew five carols; we sang all the main ones with lyric sheets, and we didn’t have any more.

“The year before COVID, we would get to go once a month, like every Wednesday during homeroom, and do an ice cream social or crosswords or coloring with them. You don’t see that as much with kids actually having conversations with older individuals, but for this they don’t get to have their cell phones – and it’s OK that they don’t have their cell phones for this amount of time, because they’ll have a hundred other things to do besides that. And I think they start to understand it, once you just expose them to that a little bit at a time.”

That’s what Joines loves the most about being so involved, is having that impact on her students and helping to open their eyes about what they can do to help their community and have a positive impact on other people around town.

“It’s super fun to see the kids’ reactions. It’s not something you get to do everyday, but it’s so fun when you do,” she said. “Like for Field Day, I always try to tell the teachers, ‘You will be so surprised by the kids that step up.’ Your leaders will naturally step up, but you’ll have the quiet kids come take the hand of a student they’ve never met before. It is easily the best part. That’s why it’s fun to bring it back, because the kids excel when given some adverse situations, I think.”

While they love the experiences they’ve had with Joines, her students will tell you that she’s one of the reasons why it’s so fun for them.

On the volleyball court, Joines is always positive and encouraging her players. Junior Ali Danekas says that’s no different than when you see her in the hallways during school hours.

“She’s definitely the one that you want to be around extra,” Danekas said. “On the court, she’s just how she is in school; she doesn’t change her personality. She’s fun and outgoing, and she’s always there for you. One thing I loved about volleyball with her, she would ask on a scale of 1 to 10, hold up your fingers, what’s your mental health doing today, and she would base our practices off of that. We’d still work hard, but at the end we’d have a fun little rally or something.

“And she’s always the bright person in the hallway. She likes to smile and joke, and even scare people. She’ll hide behind a door, then jump out and scare you. She’s just always putting a smile on your face.”

Bushman says Joines’ personality draws people in and makes them feel special, and leaves them feeling better than they did before. She also loves how reliable her volleyball coach is, no matter what the situation.

“She’s very trustworthy. She sticks with her word, does what she says she’ll do. She’s very funny, has a good personality,” Bushman said. “She’s just really helpful in many ways.”

Being a part of their world in both middle school and high school, Joines believes the best part of being so involved is how well she gets to know so many of the Polo students – and how long she gets the chance to be part of their lives.

Unlike a lot of coaches or teachers who only see students for a couple of years or a couple of classes, Joines loves getting to know them as 12- or 13-year olds, and maintaining a relationship until they’re 17 or 18.

“It’s just fun to see them grow as humans,” Joines said. “I coach them in junior high, I teach them freshman and sophomore year for sure – they can’t get away from me with Health and Driver’s Ed – and then potentially for PE and to coach them, it’s fun.”

Through the highs and lows, Joines is always there supporting students, providing someone to lean on and talk to and spend time with, and helping them navigate their teenage years.

Danekas said having Joines around so often – and for so long – is a huge reason why her experience as a Polo student has been such a good one. She played volleyball for Joines in eighth grade, before Joines became the high school coach, and was thrilled to see her again as the varsity coach this past fall.

“It’s definitely been good having Miss Joines around,” Dankeas said. “It was good to have that carryover. I didn’t have her [as a coach] my freshman and sophomore year, but when I got to varsity, it was really nice to have her because she’s a familiar face, she knows how you play – and it’s even more than that.

“I went through some health issues and surgery, and she was always the one that would reach out and make sure I was doing OK. She would email me, ‘How are you doing today,’ and she was always so encouraging when I was sitting on the bench, out of those games for recovery. She’s just always making you feel better.”