Cheri and Randy Blackwood are an "Inseparable Unit." At least that's how they're known to many of their students. The Blackwoods are teachers at Edmond Santa Fe High School. Cheri, 54, teaches Advanced Placement (AP) chemistry and physics; Randy, 52, teaches pre-AP algebra and AP statistics.
"They're really passionate about making sure that their students really understand something. They're not just teaching to an AP test," said Vivian Chen, 17, a senior at Santa Fe who nominated the Blackwoods to be one of The Oklahoman's Inspiring Couples.
But the Blackwoods don't just teach their students the fundamentals of math and science. They teach them about problem- solving and maintaining a healthy relationship.
"They've shown that even through 30 years, it's still very possible to be committed and still have fun and not just keep their friendship between themselves," Chen said. "They have such respect for each other; they can turn that respect to other people, too."
The Blackwoods have been married for 31 years and have worked together as teachers at Santa Fe for the past eight years. Since their two daughters have graduated from college, both with degrees in engineering, the Blackwoods say they have more time and energy than ever to spend on developing their students.
"We're not tied between having to share our time with our kids at home and share our time with the kids at school. They've kind of developed into our family the last several years," Randy Blackwood said of the students.
In spring, the Blackwoods often spend up to 60 hours per week working with their students. That's when First Robotics competitions occupy much of their time.
The couple lead the school's robotics team. In January, the competition begins, and the team learns what that season's challenge will be. The next six-and-a-half weeks are spent building a robot.
"One of the things that we noticed, even nationwide, is the lack of kids who want to go into engineering — who want to go into the math and science field," Cheri Blackwood said. "First Robotics is about making available to kids opportunities to develop skills to make them successful in these engineering fields, to make them the next inventors."
It's all about problem- solving, the couple said.
"There's something about practicing learning to think creatively and trying to look at a weird abstract problem and to come up with a solution, knowing there's more than one way to attack it," Randy Blackwood said.
It could be those advanced problem-solving skills that have helped the Blackwoods maintain a long-lasting and healthy marriage.
"Just like our project, not everything that Cheri and I do, do we totally agree on. We do have our disagreements, but we know how to do it in a format that's not too confrontational, and it's not demeaning," Randy Blackwood said.
Being an "Inseparable Unit," as some of their students call them, the Blackwoods said that the sheer amount of time they spend together has a lot to do with why they get along so well.
"It's just the way we are. In fact, when Vivian nominated us for this, we were completely surprised. We weren't really aware of the kind of impact we were having on kids in this way. So we've kind of had to step back and think about that," Cheri Blackwood said.
And since many of their students have parents who are divorced, the Blackwoods realize that the example they set of a healthy marriage could be the only one some of their students see.
Their tips for maintaining a strong, long-lasting marriage?
They attribute much of their success to their strong faith. They are Christians and sing in the choir at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond.
Randy Blackwood believes that not sweating the small stuff is important in their relationship. For example, he said that one of them might get annoyed with the other for small things, such as not squeezing the toothpaste right or being a bit messy in certain areas.
"It's just things that we've just kind of learned to accept, because being together is more important to us than the little things that kind of irk us, I guess," he said.
And Cheri Blackwood said it's their communication that she appreciates. When one of them needs to vent, that person just says, "OK, I just need to vent." And the other knows that his or her job is just to listen and be understanding.
"Because we're both science and math people, we tend to want to offer solutions for everything," she said.
It is for their passion for each other, their students and their faith that Randy and Cheri Blackwood were chosen as one of The Oklahoman's Inspiring Couples.
Cheri and Randy Blackwood are featured in the "Oklahoma's Most Inspiring Couples" 2010 calendar, sponsored by the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. Couples featured in the calendar are being profiled in The Oklahoman's Life section each month. For more information about the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative's inspiring couples, go to www.foreverforreal.com.