Photo by Matt Stensland
During her 31 years of teaching at South Routt Elementary School, Peggy Barnes has had the chance to teach the children of her former students. This year, she has five students whose parents she taught. They are, from left, Kayla Rossi, Marissa Martindale, Shaden Ebaugh, Joseph McLaughlin and Destiny Hunter. The uncle of Leah Halder, right, also had Barnes for a teacher.
South Routt South Routt Elementary School kindergarten teacher Peggy Barnes has five students this year whose parents she taught early in their elementary school education.
It's not uncommon these days for the 31-year veteran of the school to have children of former students in class, she said Tuesday.
"I can't even tell you how many years I've been teaching children of children," Barnes said.
Barnes, 57, taught for a year in a Texas city near Houston after graduating from the University of Michigan. The Sharpsville, Pa., native moved to South Routt in 1978, and she's never looked back. She's never thought about leaving.
Part of the reason for that is the job.
"I think you lay the foundation for the rest of their learning," she said. "It's a fine line between honoring their childhood and helping them develop into students. I still want them to play, but they have to learn how to be students. It's a fine dance you do as a kindergarten teacher to keep that balance for them.
"It's so gratifying, and I feel blessed every day. It's a great job. I still love it after all these years. It's creative, energizing. It's a hopeful place to be."
The people are the other reason for her long tenure.
"These kids and these parents are salt of the earth people," she said. "It just felt like home."
Longtime teaching partner Mary Shanklin, who retired in 2007 after 36 years at the elementary school and spent much of that time teaching the other kindergarten class alongside Barnes, called her "a teacher at heart."
"You can learn how to present material, but innately, deep down, she knows what students need and how to give it to them," Shanklin said.
That may be a little easier these days.
Barnes said she knows most of her students and their families, having taught so many of them, by the time they reach her classroom. She said some of the students ask her whether their parents ever were sent to sit in the corner. Barnes said sometimes, when her students really resemble their parents, she's called them their parents' names.
She said those relationships help make the transition to kindergarten easier. If their parents are comfortable, so are the students, Barnes said.
Amanda Halder, whose daughter, Leah, is a student in Barnes' class this year, had Shanklin as a kindergarten teacher but said she's known Barnes her entire life. Her oldest brother was in Barnes' class.
"I think it's pretty important," Halder said about that relationship. "You have not only a school relationship so you know what's going on, but you also know them outside of school."
Most of the five students agreed that having the same teacher as one or both of their parents was a good thing. Except Destiny Hunter, who had her reservations despite her dad's telling her not to worry.
"I didn't know Mrs. Barnes was great," she said. "She's cool. She's a good teacher."
Marissa Martindale's parents, Cal and Kate, both had Barnes as their kindergarten teacher. And so did at least one other member of her family.
"My auntie had Mrs. Barnes," she said and added that her aunt told her before the school year that she really liked having Barnes as a teacher and hoped Marissa would have her, too.
Barnes said if you combine aunts and uncles with parents of her current students, she estimated that she taught three-quarters of her students' relatives.
Principal Michael Young said it's rare for teachers to establish roots in a single school for their entire careers. He said Barnes is so revered because she represents what the community expects in the school.
"Her commitment to this area and this community is amazing," he said. "That's pretty special. It doesn't happen very often."
So what does teaching at the same school for 31 years and having many of her former students' children in class mean to Barnes?
"I think it says I must have done something right," she said. "Because they're great parents and great kids. That says it all right there. They've stayed in their communities and succeeded."