Remember the book published about 25 years ago called, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”? If Penny Nicholas was the Kindergarten teacher, that’s one of the truest statement ever spoken.
In December, 2014, Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) announced that it would be closing Miller Valley and Washington Schools for the 2015-16 school year. That was difficult news for Mrs. Nicholas, who sat in the audience during the PUSD Board vote. After teaching at Washington for 47 years, she probably has more invested in the school than anyone in the room. Afterwards, she admitted that it was a sad day, but expressed appreciation that the “blended learning” developed at their school would continue.
Mrs. Nicholas listens to the Board discuss the closure of Washington School.
Anyone who has ever had Mrs. Nicholas as a teacher - whether from a parent’s point of view or a student’s perspective, or in so many cases, both - knows one thing for sure. Mrs. Nicholas is determined that those entrusted in her care get an education that will serve as a strong foundation for the rest of their school years. From the first day of school to the last, Mrs. Nicholas rules her classes with discipline and compassion, firmness and understanding, kindness and laughter. After all, these were her "Kindercritters".
Mrs. Nicholas leads her students on a trek to deliver canned food to 1st Baptist Church during the holidays.
She doesn’t forget them, either. Mrs. Nicholas keeps an eye on her kids throughout their school years, even celebrating their high school graduation by sending a gift - a copy of their Kindergarten or first grade class photo next to their current high school photos.
"Half of our first grade class also graduated from PHS. You sent us cards that had our first grade picture next to our senior picture. I still have it in my school memories book. And yes folks...she taught first grade too...long, long, long ago,” Michelle Key, a former student remembered.
And for the record, this 60-something woman is no slouch. Full of energy, she competes in triathlons, keeps up on world events, posts faithfully on Facebook, enthusiastically embracing technology. A strong Christian, she lives her faith gracefully and without compromise.
The shirt worn by Nicholas during a triathlon reads,
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13.
Monday night, Mrs. Nicholas announced via Facebook that this is her last year of teaching.
"Well... it's official! This is my last year of teaching.
"I've been at the same school for 47 years--two-thirds of my lifetime! 6 different classrooms, 6 principals, hundreds of co-workers and a couple thousand students and their families.
"A big thank-you to all of you who have had a part in my professional career!
"I've always said that God would let me know when I was done--but who knew He'd have to close the school to do it! smile emoticon
"I'm finishing on a great note--I have the joy of teaching with the finest group of folks ever assembled in one school, and 2 precious classes of kindercritters. Don't know yet what God has planned from here on, but I'm looking forward to whatever adventures lie ahead…"
People responded with memories and regret that their children wouldn’t have Mrs. Nicholas as a teacher. “I was hoping that Landen would have the legendary Penny Nicholas…” one woman wrote.
Another man said, “…I went and looked at my old report cards. The comments you made about my personality were and are absolutely true. You had me pegged at age 5-6 for the man I would become…”
Another recounted, “I remember my boyfriend Joey Feffer broke my ‘diamond necklace' at recess and you fixed it for me and told me girls don’t need boyfriends!”
One thing is certain. Mrs. Nicholas may be coming to the finish line of her teaching career, but in reality, she’s just beginning her next adventure.