Wednesday morning, on the eve of Thanksgiving, children and faculty at East Gloucester Elementary School got into the spirit of gratitude to host a special celebration for Karen Kenny, a teacher of 36 years who has decided to retire after a lengthy career.
Kenny, who over her 36 years had taught in West Virginia and Minnesota, was able to find a home at East Gloucester Elementary School to finish out her final 11 years of teaching.
“I think it’s her passion. I think it’s palpable,” co-worker and educational support paraprofessional Pam Ashe said.
To celebrate Kenny’s retirement, the school held a surprise assembly to close out the half-day leading into Thanksgiving break.
Prior to the assembly, Kenny concluded her last day of work by sitting down before a class of children to read aloud a story book. Professional yet warm in the final moments of a long career, Kenny’s connection to her young students was undeniably evident as she narrated with a honey-sweet teacherly inflection that evokes a deep later-in-life reminiscent smile.
“I’ve worked in the same building for 12 years and I’ve never gotten the chance to see her in the classroom because we’re in our own classrooms. We’re busy,” said Lynne Salah, a coworker and educational support paraprofessional. “This year, she didn’t have a classroom, so we invited her into kindergarten to help us out. That was really enlightening to see her way with the kids. She’s just a true-blue good heart and she appreciates every child for their individuality.”
When it was time to attend the assembly, Kenny’s entrance was met with a packed auditorium. The school children welcomed her with a recital of the “Continent Song” and the “Ocean Song” that they had learned in school. Afterward, Principal Amy Pasquarello, aided by two fifth-graders, called Kenny up to the stage to accept a bouquet of flowers and a “Happy Retirement” book comprised of contributions from everybody at the school. To conclude the ceremony, everybody in the room sang along to audio of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher,” a favorite of Kenny’s. Immediately after, the teacher was mobbed by children leaving the stage for hugs.
Pasquarello said that the school would miss Kenny’s “vibrancy” and that her retirement was “happy for her, sad for us.”
For Kenny, the departure is similarly filled with mixed emotions. She looks forward to having time for herself during the week and being a grandmother when her youngest child has a baby in May, but she isn’t quite ready to bid teaching goodbye for good just yet.
“I’m a little ambivalent. I’m ready for a less frantic pace, but I still hope to help out here at East Gloucester,” Kenny said. “It’s important work and I want to be part of it. I just enjoy being part of a community of teachers and making lives better for kids.”