STONINGTON — Six teachers who have a taught a total of 105 years at Deans Mill Elementary School — and 157 years in the town's schools — closed their classroom doors for the last time last week.
Geri Wright, Gina Bowman, Kathy Sanford, Gail McLeod, Bonnie Cusack and Sherry Castodio are among the 13 Stonington Public Schools teachers who took the retirement package that was offered by the district this year.
On May 30, the group even had the opportunity to announce their retirement on NBC's "Today" show.
Castodio said it was her idea to shoot a video of the six retiring Deans Mill teachers for a segment on the Today Show called “Shout Out from Home” in which viewers are invited to post videos of events to Twitter or Instagram with the hope that the show will air their video.
Castodio asked the five other retiring teachers if they would be interested in participating, and they agreed to give it a try.
A fourth-grade teacher videotaped the group on May 29, Castodio said. Principal Jennifer McCurdy posted it on the Deans Mill Twitter page and hash-tagged the "Today" show, which found the posting. The video aired on the show the next morning.
Wright, a special-education teacher, said she started teaching in 1974,with the last 15 years at Deans Mill.
“It was almost the first year the special-ed law came into practice,” Wright said. “They didn’t know what special ed was, they didn’t believe in learning disabilities. I had 12 or 15 LD kids of all ages in one classroom.”
Bowman, a reading specialist, has been teaching for 30 years, 24 of them in Stonington.
“The kids are the center of what we do, and that’s how I wanted it,” Bowman said last week. “And I think that remains to be true until the last minute.”
Bowman said she tried to keep her retirement low-key for her students.
“I said, when you do something for a long time, you need to do something different,” Bowman said.
McLeod, who has been a teacher for 34 years at Deans Mill and teaches first grade, said facing retirement was a bittersweet time for her.
“I have moments where I’m feeling very sentimental,” she said, “and other times I have little signs of knowing that it was the right decision.”
Castodio, who has been in the school system for 36 years as a health and physical education teacher, held back tears as she explained how emotional her last week had been.
“I’ve been having the kids bring in these beautiful cards all day long,” Castodio said, “to the point where I got teary-eyed and I had to say to the kids, somebody tell a joke really fast so I can start laughing again. And they all had tons of jokes of course.”
“It was hardest to say goodbye to the fourth-graders because I’ve spent the longest time with them,” Castodio said.
“There’s a lot that I will miss,” McLeod said. “”I think we’re very fortunate at Deans Mill. We have a very supportive administrative staff and wonderful families and colleagues. We all support each other.”
“The families are fabulous,” Cusack said. “They are very invested in their children’s future. The PTO is very supportive and very generous.”
“Teaching first grade is very, very challenging,” Cusack said last week. “The takeaway for me is to see the growth of the children from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, and how they become more fluent readers, and they just become more confident.”
“When students have that ‘aha’ moment, I think that’s what I’ll miss,” McLeod said.
“It’s a hard hit for Deans Mill school, and even though we’re happy for their retirement, we’re really sad to see them all leaving at once,” McCurdy, the principal, said. “It’s not just six teachers retiring, it’s six teachers that are very involved and have a sense of tradition for this school … and have helped carry on those traditions."
The members of the group said they were planning a retirement party to be held sometime after their last day, which was Friday. They also have plans to go to breakfast and then to the beach on the first day the students return to school in September.