In Meg Abel’s kindergarten class, toward the end of the day, students are busy taking part in what they call “active learning.” Some of them are looking at live caterpillars in small clear containers. They should grow into butterflies someday.
Others are drawing pictures, some are writing on small whiteboards.
Soon, Abel turns out the lights and sings, “Time to put the toys away,” and the students slowly start to pick up their things. Some of them even sing the song while they clean up.
When everything is put away, it’s story time. Abel reads “Pete the Cat,” which has a song that every student knew and sang along.
Abel has been teaching in the West Valley School District since 1991. Next month she’s retiring.
“I’m not sure 5-year-olds have changed all that much,” Abel said, reflecting back to when she first started in West Valley. “Everything is new to them.”
She said at that age, students are like sponges, picking up information quickly. She describes her students as being full of wonder and magic, and eager to learn.
Her students described what they like most about Abel.
“She’s brave and good and she teaches us lots,” said Jasmine Sheva, 6.
“I like her the best because she does her hardest on stuff,” said Pedro Villa, 6.
Originally from Chicago, Abel, 63, started her career in 1977 in a two-room school house in central Montana. She took eight years off after she had her two children. Her husband of 38 years, Bill, worked in construction and brought his family to the Spokane area after a small recession to find better opportunities.
She didn’t originally set out to teach kindergarteners. She thought she would teach fifth or sixth grade. But when she moved to the West Valley School District, her children went to the preschool co-op and she fell in love with early childhood education.
She started in the Kindergarten Center, which used to be in the Millwood Early Learning Center, and came to Orchard Center about a decade ago.
This last year has been different for Abel and her fellow kindergarten teachers – it is the first year the grade has been a full day, rather than a half.
Abel appreciates the time she has to cover the academic demands but still has questions about whether it’s a good thing.
“It’s a long day for them still,” she said, but added it depends on the child and what works best for them.
“This school has done a million things for me,” Abel said.
Both of her children attended Orchard Center. Her son, Evan, died of leukemia at the age of 22. It inspired the school’s annual “Pennies for Patients” fundraiser. Over the years, students have raised $19,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“Coming back to school was hard,” she said of Evan’s death. She said losing a child is something you never get over but is reminded all the time that life is good. “Children are very healing.”
She said she doesn’t have specific plans for her retirement. Her husband plans to retire next year and she hopes they will travel to some national parks. They’ll travel to the Midwest to see her daughter, Molly Considine, graduate from law school. She looks forward to taking yoga classes, walking, reading and seeing family.
“I feel really privileged to have been able to be a teacher,” Abel said. She hopes her students left her classroom learning skills such as confidence, kindness and treating people fairly.
“I hope those are the lessons kids will take with them.”