Former Westfield teacher receives career achievement award from Ball State


Jan Brill figures she was born to be a teacher.

Brill’s grandmother, Edna Forrest, was a teacher, and her mother, Judy Schafer, was a teacher. Her aunt was a teacher, too.

“It’s just what my family did,” Brill said. “I’ve always liked to work with other people, whether they be kids or adults.”

CIC COM 1012 Brill Award

The Carmel resident and retired Westfield Washington Schools teacher received the 2021 Career Achievement Alumni Award from the Ball State University Teachers College Alumni Society. The ceremony was supposed to be this fall, but it has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brill, a 1974 Ball State University graduate, said getting the honor was exciting.

“Jan was an absolutely amazing science teacher for our students at Westfield Intermediate School,” said Robb Hedges, now Westfield’s Shamrock Springs Elementary School principal. “She engaged the students in hands-on activities, worked well collaborating with her peers and always kept the students’ best interest first.”

Brill taught in several different positions in Westfield Washington Schools for 22 years before retiring in 2018. After one year as a Title I instructor, she primarily taught fifth- and sixth-grade math and science. She then served as the Westfield Intermediate School’s lab instructor for 12 years. She also was a mentor teacher for first-year teachers.

Brill’s friend, Kathy Knochel-Graveel, was her teaching partner at Westfield Intermediate School. Knochel-Graveel is a sixth-grade instructor at the school.

“Jan is the type of person that always gives 100 percent of herself and then more,” Knochel-Graveel said in her nominating letter. “As a teacher she never said ‘die’ and was tireless in her efforts to help students and the community. Her own needs came last.”

Even after retiring, Brill was substituting teaching before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The best part of teaching for Brill was the relationships with the students and how funny they were, she said.

“What they would say and their facial reactions,” Brill said. “I could tell by their eyebrows ‘Are you happy, confused or sad.’ Watching kids was the delight of my entire career, even when I taught music. I could tell what they were thinking. They did not need to say anything, I could tell by their eyes I knew what they wanted to tell me.”

During her time, Brill, who has a master’s degree in school counseling from Butler University, received a Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship to visit six national parks, then created slide shows to present to her students.

A unique teaching experience came in 2009 when Brill was one of seven public school teachers in Indiana to become an Armstrong Teacher Educator through the Indiana University School of Education, which allowed her to participate in professional development opportunities and work with IU faculty and students studying to become teachers.

Prior to teaching in Westfield, Brill taught music lessons for 18 years. When her two children were young, she gave private cello lessons in her home studio as well as at Park Tudor.

Brill, who plays cello, is one of two founding members remaining in the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, which began in 1975. She also plays in her church orchestra at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. She performs in two musical trios.

“My outlet is music,” said Brill, who also is a Master Gardener and volunteers with different groups.