After 40 years devoted to helping Berryville students take their first steps on the path to higher learning, First Grade teacher Cindy Newcomb is trading her classroom for a choir robe. Parents, students and Clarke County Public School faculty packed Berryville Primary’s Classroom #2 Friday evening to honor Newcomb’s legacy as she begins a new phase of her life.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling to think about not being here next year,” Newcomb said. “There’s no other way to say it, Berryville Primary is like a family to me. That’s why I’ve stayed for forty years.”
Newcomb’s classroom saw a steady stream of visitors for much of the evening. Many offered gifts of appreciation and most exchanged hugs and thanks with Berryville Primary’s senior educator. The classroom stayed full for most of the evening with newly arriving guests standing in the hallway waiting for space to enter.
Newcomb’s warm smile and gentle approach with children are legend within the halls of Berryville Primary school, as are her favorite teaching aids; Clifford the Big Red Reading dog and rain forest learning modules.
“I love Clifford!” Newcomb laughs as she stands below a large, red Clifford cut-out taped above the chalkboard at the front of her classroom. “I have pictures and stories about thirty Clifford’s that students and families have taken all around the world.“ Newcomb says that Clifford and his travels provide a fun way for her young students to begin learning to read.
Newcomb’s other trademark learning approach is weaving her love of rain forests into her reading lessons. This year’s curriculum for Newcomb’s students, as well as the other three Berryville Primary first grade classes, included a five-week module about rain forest resources, plants, animals and culture.
Fellow first grade teacher, Rachel Pequignot said, “Everyone always remembers the rain forests from Ms. Newcomb’s class.” Pequignot says that Newcomb works hard to bring the rain forest experience to the students by bringing to school her own orchids and plants for children to experience.
Berryville Primary fourth-grader, Eric, a former student of Newcomb, concurs; “She’s a good teacher, a very good teacher. The rain forest stuff was really fun.”
Sharing her life with her students has always been an important part of Cindy Newcomb’s approach to teaching. Mary Kay Batka, an English instructor at Johnson Williams Middle School, said that all three of her sons had Newcomb as their first grade teacher. “Cindy always had a spring picnic at her home for the students. My youngest son always thought that it was so neat to actually go to his teacher’s house.” Batka praised Newcomb’s devotion to students and her strong emphasis on reading. “Teaching children to read lays the foundation for everything in life. Cindy taught all three of my sons to read. Her enthusiasm and love for children is what makes her so good at what she does.”
Mel Trejo, the father of two students who have benefited from Newcomb’s instruction, explained why he believes that Newcomb is an excellent educator. “She’s very genuine and it’s easy to see how much she cares for the kids. Her students adore her.”
Newcomb says that one of the highlights of her career has been teaching the children of her previous students (Newcomb says that the second generation is easier). She also believes that Berryville Primary’s programs are effective because every child is viewed as an individual. “We have high expectations for every child and we make sure that every single student is given the individual support that they need to excel.”
Newcomb said that Clarke County’s school system does an excellent job promoting communication between parents, teachers, and administrators and believes that this is important for continued success in the future.
Once the school year is completed and Newcomb closes her classroom for one last summer break, she is plans to spend more time singing with her United Methodist Church choir at Mount Olivet in Arlington. Newcomb is looking forward to accompanying the choir on a five-day musical tour through Indiana and Kentucky later this summer.
While it’s true that Berryville Primary will not be the same next year without Cindy Newcomb, she does plan to continue substitute teaching from time to time. Future young readers may yet, still, begin their literary learning helped by tales of big red dogs and jungle images. But, as hard as it is for parents and teaching staff to imagine Berryville Primary’s Classroom #2 without its perennial occupant, it’s probably even harder for Cindy to imagine; In addition to her forty years spent in Classroom #2 as a teacher, Cindy also spent her third grade year as a student sitting in the same room where her young pupils do today. After spending 40 years perfecting her classroom as a place of learning, on June 16th, Newcomb sends her last class of young learners off to summer vacations filled with swimming pools, family trips, cookouts and, perhaps for most, a first summer of reading.
Not every title will be remembered in the years ahead, but the magical days spent in Ms. Newcomb’s First Grade always will.