Sunnyside teachers say good-bye
An important page in the history of Sunnyside Elementary School has turned with the retireament of Claire Bertrand, Ron Phendler, Colette Roy and Elaine Vachon who, between them, have taught at the school for one hundred and thirty years.
The staff and students surprised the four teachers, last Tuesday, with a special tribute during the endof-year assembly which was attended by many parents, some of whom had also been taught by the retiring educators.
“I always wanted to teach kindergarten and I was lucky to get the position at Sunnyside right after I graduated,” said Claire Bertrand who has been Sunnyside’s kindergarten teacher for thirtyfour years. Commenting on the benefits of elementary teachers staying at the same school for many years, Claire said: “It was fun for the teachers to teach the children of former students. And the parents have more confidence in us, because they know us, and the children can see that.”
Mme. Bertrand is sure next year’s crop of five-year-olds will be in good hands: “Marie-Josée Boulet was a stagiaire with me and I’m really happy to be passing the baton to her. She is a good teacher, very passionate.”
“A teacher should always be renewing, and learning along with the children; evolving in their profession. It’s also important to stay close to the community because a school is like a family,” she added.
“I’d like to thank the Stanstead community for supporting me throughout the years, especially in all the special projects, and I thank all the children – they allowed me to grow,” concluded Mme. Bertrand. On a sad note, Pinotte, the kindergarten mascot who arrived with Claire on her first day, will also be retiring.
Ron Phendler, who grew up in the Montreal area, adopted the Eastern Townships as his home in 1979. “I can remember driving across Lake Memphremagog during the winter when I was working at the Mansonville School,” said Mr. Phendler who began teaching at Sunnyside twentyseven years ago.
Besides his regular responsibilities at the school, teaching grades 3/4, then grade 1, Mr. Phendler will certainly be remembered for his melodious contribution to the school, teaching music to all the levels and providing
the musical entertainment during many of the school’s special events, usually with fellow teacher Elaine Vachon. “Over the last thirty-five years, I brought my guitar to school every day. I’ve gone through three guitar cases! It’s really been the best paying guitar gig.”
“I’ve walked to Beebe and climbed Mont Orford more times than I can remember. I’ve even danced in a tutu on a cafeteria table after losing a bet with the students. I told them that if they could find a word that didn’t have a vowel in it…apparently the word ‘nth’ is in the dictionary.”
“Beginning in grade 1, students should do ‘guided writing’ every day. In my grade 1 class, last year, the students made 177 journal entries. I’ve seen big improvements when the students do ‘guided writing’ and the students like the routine of it,” was some of this experienced teacher’s advice. “I learnt to read out of fear, so when I get on my high horse, I remember not to be like my old teacher. Half the battle is fought if the kids want to come to school.”
Music will continue to be an important part of Mr. Phendler’s life as he plans to conduct more sing-alongs with the Veterans at Ste. Anne’s Hospital, where his father lives, and to take advanced guitar lessons. “I also hope to come back and play at the school, if Elaine comes with me.”
Colette Roy, who grew up in Coaticook and lives there still, has taught in the French program at Sunnyside since 1983, covering the subjects of French language, Art, Science, Social Science, Drama and Dance, as Mme. Roy says, “Toute en francais.”
“When I was in kindergarten I said that I wanted to be a teacher. After I graduated from the Université de Sherbrooke, I began right away at Sunnyside. French was not really loved at the time, but the community accepted me as a Francophone, even though my English was pitiful! I felt that I always had good collaboration and good communication with the parents,” said Colette.
Mme. Roy had some particular advice for teaching French. “You must have a lot of patience and passion. Without that you will die! And you shouldn’t use English at all, but find other ways to communicate something when the student doesn’t understand.”
Colette has many plans for the future, such as travelling, learning how to play the piano, cleaning her house and possibly even writing a children’s book. “We put a lot aside when we’re teaching, but it’s worth it to be able to make a difference in the life of an individual,” concluded Mme. Roy.
Resource teacher Elaine Vachon has been at Sunnyside the longest and has thirty-seven years under her belt. “I spent my whole career involved with Special Education; even when I taught grade two I still did resource work. I’ve been very fortunate to spend my whole life working with kids; they’re interesting people,” said Ms. Vachon.
With forty-five years in the schooling system, Elaine was asked about the changes she’d seen in education. “Every few years we get new reforms so we’ve been through a number of changes. The change I’ve seen with the most enduring difference is the understanding that teaching and learning are social activities; the student needs to have an attachment to the teacher. The whole staff here at Sunnyside has really focused on that and we’ve seen a big difference at Sunnyside in the last few years,” Elaine commented.
Her advice for new teachers was: “Don’t take it personally if a student does something they shouldn’t – kids will do things – but try to form an attachment with every child that comes into the classroom.”
Ms. Vachon plans to be more creative with her time, musically and artistically, and is anticipating having more time for other favourite activities. “I have a two year-old grand-daughter now and I’m looking forward to getting into my garden.”
“It’s wonderful to teach in the community that you live in, teaching the kids of former pupils, seeing the students and their parents at the grocery store. I really like that feeling of a long-term engagement,” said Ms. Vachon who, like Mr. Phendler, grew up in Montreal. “I’ve enjoyed every year at Sunnyside; it was a very meaningful part of my life.”
Sunnyside’s four retiring teachers, Ron Phendler and (l. to r.) Colette Roy, Elaine
Vachon and Claire Bertrand, taught at the school a total of 130 years.
Retiring teachers Claire Bertrand, Colette Roy and Elaine Vachon served cake at the surprise celebration held at the school last week.