Cherrie Mills ’64 was an elementary school teacher in Tacoma and Escondido, Calif., for 31 years. When she retired in 1997 she thought her teaching days were over, but then her ideas about education began to interlock in different ways. She signed on as an educational associate at Legoland California, a theme park that’s as much a giant venue for interactive learning as it is place to ride roller coasters and see Lego replicas of the White House, Empire State Building, and Golden Gate Bridge. In 2004 Cherrie was named a Legoland Model Citizen of the Year, a big deal in the “country just for kids.”
Why did you decide to leave the classroom?
I wanted to spend more time caring for my parents.
And what drew you to Legoland?
I love teaching and really missed it. It’s in my blood. My grandmother and great-grandmother were teachers. My grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Flossmoor, Ill., in 1905. Her mother had been a second-grade teacher in Vermont, and her father was a professor at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. I enjoyed teaching students in all subject areas, and the people at Legoland were interested in that.
What’s your job there?
During the school year I teach hands-on science classes to students from preschool to high school. In the summer I work with the YMCA Lego Explore camps.
How does hands-on learning contribute to the educational environment?
It really brings science to life. When the students come into our area we give them materials that are visual. We help them move step by step through the building process until they get it. An example is “Funtastic Gears,” a project that shows how gears work by building a replica of a Legoland ride. After the kids are done we recommend that they enjoy particular rides or attractions that tie in with the lesson, so they can have hands-on, eyes-on, body-on, and mind-on experiences.
How were you selected for the Model Citizen of the Year award?
I was nominated by other model citizens in our area. The criteria were Legoland values, such as attitude, service to others, responsibility, and honesty, integrity, and fairness.
What constitutes the award?
Air travel to Legoland Windsor, Legoland Billund, or Legoland Deustchland, accommodations, and $1,000 in spending money. I went to Billund, Denmark, with my brother. We met wonderful people from all over the world. They were very helpful, friendly, kind, and their hospitality was outstanding. We met people from Luxembourg, England, Norway, Denmark, and a wonderful family who had a farm just 20 minutes outside of Billund and 20 minutes from the German border.
Is “Model” Citizen a Lego pun?
Yes. It has a triple meaning. The distinction as a citizen of Legoland. The reference to Lego models. And we call Model Citizen’s MCs, which relates to hosting responsibilities. My car’s license plate says MC SMILE.