Yampa Despite sitting in miniature chairs made for kindergartners, teachers Mary Shanklin and Peggy Barnes looked comfortable Tuesday.
Why wouldn't they? South Routt Elementary School has been their home for a combined 64 years.
But Shanklin has retired after 36 years with the district, so it should come as no surprise there was plenty of laughter and several tears Tuesday as the colleagues and great friends reflected on their 29 years teaching kindergarten together.
"She's from the 1960s, and I'm as redneck as the day it started, but philosophically we are soulmates," Shanklin said.
"Very much," Barnes added.
Public education has changed drastically in 30 years, but South Routt has been committed to the kindergarten program for as long as Shanklin can remember, even if there were times when she had 40 students all by herself in a mobile unit.
When Barnes came to interview for a kindergarten teaching vacancy in 1978, she wasted no time getting involved.
"We didn't talk much," Shanklin said. "We were so busy."
But the two haven't really stopped talking since. In fact, it's commonplace for them to finish each other's sentences.
"We plan together, work together," Shanklin said.
"And have grown together to create this wonderful program," Barnes said.
Rarely do teachers stay in the profession for 36 years, and rarely do they work with the same partner for nearly 30 years. The similar beliefs as to what kindergarten should be about and what they should be teaching has enabled the all-day kindergarten program to flourish in South Routt.
"We are the beginning," Barnes said. "We try to create a foundation of learning."
Kim Young, principal Michael Young's wife, has been hired to replace Shanklin, and Kim Young has eight years of experience, which Barnes is excited about.
But it's easy to see that Barnes and Shanklin have special places in their hearts for each other.
"We took the best that worked for us out of every new program that came along," Barnes said.
For most of Shanklin's life, all she has ever wanted to be is a kindergarten teacher, graduating college early to fulfill a dream she had when she was in fourth grade. She is planning a post-retirement vacation to Alaska - her first real vacation in 35 years. She plans to be a substitute teacher next year.
She can't just walk away from the moment when a child reads a certain word for the first time.
"I have thought about it all year," Shanklin said.
On Tuesday, minutes before school let out, Barnes and Shanklin were immersed in the arduous task of prepping kindergartners to go home. This particular day was more difficult because it was snowing, which meant boots, coats, hats and gloves needed to go on.
But there was no frustration, no snappy comments or sighs of disbelief. There only were smiles.
"They are so precious," Shanklin said of the kindergartners. "They are innocent. They are trusting."
"They are a blessing," Barnes added. "You can be tired, but you can't have a bad day."