A man of many words teaches more than just vocabulary at OBE
by Mariko Lamb
Mar 21, 2013 | 4279 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Word Man Jim Crakes demonstrates  the unique sounds of the didgeridoo, a wind instrument developed by indigenous Australians, during his word lesson on Feb. 19 for students at Ocean Beach Elementary School. Photo by Mariko Lamb | The Beacon
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Each month, Ocean Beach Elementary School students in Cyndie Volpone’s combined third- and fourth-grade class look forward to a visit by the “The Word Man,” Jim Crakes, who livens up the classroom with his fun word games and puzzles, enlightening youngsters with educational tidbits about cultures around the globe and tales about his own fascinating personal history as an avid traveler, Olympic athlete and lifelong educator.

“They love when ‘Mr. Jim’ comes,” said Volpone. “All the concepts he introduces to them all year long are reinforced during the school year within the curriculum, so he’ll come in and just put a twist on it for me, which is such an advantage for me, as a teacher, because they’re with me all day long. They love when he comes.”

As part of the word lesson — which includes everything from a warm-up “word of the day” exercise to a 16-letter matrix game dubbed “little boggles” —Crakes incorporates enlightened critical-thinking skills through stories touching on subjects like history, culture and geography.

“He always brings in part of his culture, his background, his experiences,” said Volpone. “He tells them about going to the Olympics or his grandchildren or he’ll bring in writing that somebody did in his family. The students not only see him as an educator, but as a real person.”

Although Crakes’ visits to the classroom have become less frequent over recent years, shifting from twice-weekly lessons when he first started to monthly guest lessons now, it is a job he has undertaken with enthusiasm for the past two decades.

“I’d been teaching and coaching up at Point Loma Nazarene University since 1967 back when it was Cal Western University,” he said. “I was a track coach and also taught kinesiology and exercise physiology.”

Although he always liked to read, write poetry and had a history of designing curricula for other coaches, Crakes’ fascination with words and word games began after his official retirement in 1994.

“I started soon after that time. First, I came just to help, then she would kind of give the class to me,” he said. “I wrote some books and things like that, but I never wrote anything but scientific stuff.”

After taking a writing class through continuing education, Crakes became more motivated to develop a structured educational tool for the students in Volpone’s classroom.

Crakes’ lessons, however, tend to extend beyond the classroom curriculum and into education about compassion and quiet philanthropy.

Despite having tried to retire in 1992, Crakes’ big-hearted generosity and proactive ideas tend keep him busy one way or another.

In addition to big-picture ideas, like his concept to develop an intergenerational program for empowering children in the Point Loma and Ocean Beach area through extracurricular programs, Crakes’ day-to-day benevolence is not overlooked.

“He’s always so good about helping, and he’s very generous,” said Volpone. “He supplies the students with things when we need stuff.”

On Fridays, Crakes supplies sandwiches for some students who might not eat as often as others over the weekend.

Through all his daily acts of generosity, Crakes seeks no accolades or recognition for his actions, which are often centered on bolstering youth and providing them with an environment of enrichment opportunities, like The Word Man’s lessons in Volpone’s third- and fourth-grade class.

“He tries not to make a big deal out of it,” said Volpone. “But he really is the king of compassion in every way.”
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