Deciding on a major and career can be difficult for some. One can be interested in too many topics or not interested in any. But for April Townsend Pieper ’95, there was never a doubt in her mind. When she came to Berea College, she knew from the start that she wanted to be an educator. Her 26-year career would take her all over Kentucky, progressing from teaching English to special education to school administration and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).

“All my life, the only things I ever wanted to be was a teacher and a mother,” Pieper said.
Growing up in a military family, the only constant was moving. Throughout her childhood, Pieper’s family moved from place to place, 23 states and two countries. Eventually, she left the constant moving behind to finish high school in West Virginia with her grandmother. Teachers, Pieper says, provided kindness and compassion during this chaotic time of change.

“I was so grateful, and I wanted to be that person for others,” she said.

Unfortunately, college never really seemed like a possibility until her counselor in West Virginia told her about Berea College. “I guess I was always looking for a place to lay down some roots,” Pieper said, recalling how Berea looked like it could provide consistency in an inconsistent and often tumultuous world.

In 1989, Berea sent a bus to pick Pieper up from West Virginia and brought her back to campus for a weekend, an opportunity where she could talk to professors in her field of interest and experience residence hall life. “I had never seen a college campus before; I didn’t think it would be possible,” April said. “Berea made it possible. I could see my dreams happening there.”

Although she was accepted to other, much larger schools, once the Berea acceptance letter arrived, she never looked back.

After being accepted to Berea, Pieper got right to work fulfilling her goals. She was assigned to an art department labor position, where she would spend the next five years working while she pursued her degree. She advanced from a facilities assistant in the art library to a student supervisor, and she looks back fondly on the lessons she learned.

“I learned a lot about how to help people be happy in their jobs, when you recognize them and celebrate their accomplishments,” she said. “I really learned so much.”

These skills included staff development, where, as a student supervisor, it was her job to guide other students in their labor positions and give them feedback and encouragement. She would go on to use what she learned in her labor positions in the classroom and in her future work as an administrator.

After graduation, Pieper and her husband, James Pieper ’94, spent a year working in a therapeutic residential center for middle school and high school students near Berea, while she sent out applications to schools to become a teacher. Her experience interacting with kids at the center continued to fuel her desire to be an educator.

Berea had instilled a “bone-deep” desire to serve the community and improve the lives of others. Pieper, a Bonner Scholar and volunteer with People Who Care during her time at Berea, was inspired by her experience with the group home to become a foster parent for the Kentucky Department of Community Based Services. Since 2004, April and James have fostered 30 children and adopted three.

In 1996, Pieper landed a position as a high school English teacher in a western Kentucky school district. “I hit the ground running,” Pieper recalled about her experience at the school. In one of her first classes, the oldest student was 19 years old. Pieper was just 21. She floated, pushing a cart between classrooms. For the first week, she drove two-and-a-half hours and changed time zones to get to the school, waking up early in the morning and coming home late in the evening, since she hadn’t moved out of Berea yet. The drive was worth it, though. Sitting down with her husband, they both decided, “This was my opportunity,” Pieper remembers. “We had to take it.”

The summer break after her second year, the district decided to cut her position. But her school managed to pull a few strings to get her a position as a part-time art teacher. Having graduated with an English Education degree and with no experience teaching art, she did the only thing she could think to do—jump right in. Studying the school’s art textbooks, using what she knew from her time in the Berea art department and borrowing from her Berea art teacher’s lesson plans, she managed to teach multiple art classes and even organize an art-themed field trip. She would also substitute part time for special education teachers during this time, which gave her experience educating special needs students that she would utilize later in her career.

After finding a new English teaching position in another county, she joined a committee devoted to improving student outcomes for minority students. But she felt that the committee wasn’t going about its work in the right way. The committee’s approach was to encourage more practice and testing, but members weren’t seeing results. Pieper went to KDE’s website to find someone to talk to about her concerns. Noticing job postings, she applied and was hired for a position that allowed her to use her experience developing staff in Berea to help students succeed in school. After three years at KDE, she switched to special education, where she remained during her career with the department.

After her 14-year tenure at KDE, she decided it was time to take everything she had learned at Berea, her time as a teacher and in her administrative role at KDE and apply it in a school district. Today, Pieper works as the director of pupil personnel at an independent school district near Frankfort, where she works with special education students.

At Berea, you don’t just learn out of a textbook. You also learn on the job, helping those around you and serving the community. Pieper’s experience reflects this, starting even before she became a student—personally interacting with professors, learning through experience on the job as a student labor supervisor and eventually achieving her dream of becoming a teacher.

“The openness, listening to people, problem solving—to lead with a servant heart,” Pieper recalled. “All of that I learned at Berea, and it served me well.”

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
We'd love to hear your thoughtsx