By Shirley Shuman
A former beloved and highly respected teacher and, later, Braxton County Math Director, Jerry Jackson received quite a surprise on his 80th birthday. It began with a surprise birthday party planned by his children and included honors sent from a United States Senator.
The party, held at Days Hotel, was planned by his daughters Lorie Edwards and Amy Adams along with his son Brad. After the honoree had walked into a room full of family and friends, some from quiet a distance, his daughter Lorie brought out what surprised her father the most, and she read each to him.
First came a personal letter to Jackson from Senator. It began, “On behalf of the citizens of the Mountain State and as your United States Senator Joe Manchin, it gives me great honor to extend my very best wishes to Math Field Day founder (creator?) Jerry L. Jackson for a very happy 8th birthday. I know this special day is a memorable occasion for you to reflect on your many accomplishments and experiences while enjoying the company of your loved ones.”
Next, Jackson received a United States flag which had been flown, at the request of Senator Manchin, over the U.S. Capitol for one day in honor of Jackson and his accomplishments. Accompanying the flag was a written proclamation which said, in part, “This is to certify that this flag was flown over the U.S. Capitol one day in honor of Math Field Day Creator Jerry Jackson in honor of his countless contributions to the students of West Virginia.” It ended with the words, “Thank you for your untiring commitment to fostering hope, dignity, and empowerment.”
Jackson acknowledged that he couldn’t “make a speech” to express his appreciation for the honors he had received. He said that he had taught for several years, and had talked to large and small groups of adults, especially when he was first organizing and promoting Math Field Day as a way to add interest to learning and demonstrating a knowledge of mathematics. “However,” he noted, “I was too overcome with emotion to say much more than a simple ‘Thank you’.”
The 80 year old explained how Math Field Day began in Braxton County. “I attended a conference of mathematics teachers in Morgantown, and we had a speaker, Dr. Kenneth B. Kidd from the University of Florida. It was actually Dr. Kidd who inspired me to try something to interest more students in math,” he said.
As a result, Jackson came up with the idea of a mathematics competition for Braxton County students in grades one through eight. He held the first Braxton County Math Field Day on May 26, 1972. Over 200 students competed in the Braxton County High School gymnasium. And he came away distressed with some of the results! “To my great surprise and disappointment,” he noted, some kids, mostly those in the early grades, became frightened and some even cried.” He decided at that point to include only grades four through eight. (It should be noted here that at some point, he began a yearly Math Field Day at Braxton County High School, and that continues.)
Next in his progress to introduce the concept of the Math Field Day as an interesting and challenging experience was a Regional Math Field Day which included eight area counties. That event, organized by Jackson and other math directors, took place May 25,1973. By this time, many—perhaps even most, counties in the state had begun Math Field Days. That culminated in, again with the help of Jackson, the first State Math Field day held at Potomac State College in Keyser on May 16, 1975.
Jerry Jackson’s idea springing from Dr. Kidd’s suggestion that math should be fun blossomed from there into a Braxton County Math Field Day and culminated in State Math Field Day. In most counties, Math Field Day is alive and well, thanks to a Braxton County man who took an idea from a speech and went from there.