SOUTH PORTLAND — Three sisters who have been educators for a combined 117 years are set to retire at the end of this school year.

Cecile LaPlante and Susan Donovan of South Portland, and Theresa LaPlante of Cumberland, grew up in Van Buren with five other siblings and their parents. Their father was a farmer who was adamant that his children attend college and have careers.

“The decision to all be educators was an independent choice,” said oldest sibling Cecile, 65, who has worked as a world languages teacher at South Portland High School for 42 years. “And our decisions to retire were not talked about beforehand either. It just worked out that way.”

While the roles they are retiring from differ in focus, they share common ground with a desire to help students develop the skills and tools necessary for life after education.

“I work with a wide spectrum of students with different abilities and English levels,” said Theresa, 62, who works as a guidance counselor at Portland High School and has a total of 38 years of service in Maine schools. “It has been challenging, rewarding and inspiring to see how students are able to navigate life’s obstacles. It has been so rewarding for me to play a part in that process.”

Donovan, 59, who has worked as a math teacher at Memorial Middle School for 37 years, said being in charge of the Homework Club after school for 15 years has given her the opportunity to work one-on-one with students who are struggling with math.

“Some kids don’t want to be there, but some really want it and get a lot out of it,” she said. “If they’ve always been behind in class and are all of a sudden getting extra support that may be life changing for them.”

Cecile advises the National Honor Society and French Club. She said that the most rewarding aspect of her work centers around the 20 years she worked in the French exchange program and her involvement in the Riot Rack project, which collects food, clothing and school supplies for students.

Those who have worked closely with Cecile, Theresa and Donovan say their passion and commitment to student success has been obvious throughout their careers.

“In the three years I’ve worked with (Theresa), it’s obvious she has a student-centered approach,” Portland High School Principal Sheila Jepson said. “She does an incredible job with the whole process of helping them transition from grade nine through high school and then through the college process.”

South Portland High School Latin Teacher Tom Major, who has worked with Cecile for 32 years, said she is nurturing to her students and has fostered language acquisition and a sense of community at the school.

“A lot of us are wondering who will pick up the ball in Cecile’s absence,” Major said. “It leaves a big hole in the school programs that she has organized and upheld.”

Diane Baker, an eighth grade math teacher who has worked with Donovan for 11 years, said she has always looked up to her as a mentor.

“She truly is one of the hardest working teachers I know,” Baker said. “She puts in so much time, stays after school and really goes through their math with a fine tooth comb and helps them understand. The kids are very well prepared to go to high school when they leave her math class.”

While all three sisters agreed that the transition into retirement is one of mixed feelings, they are excited for what the future holds, and said they would do it all again if they had to.

“When I told my students, it was sad, and it still is. I can say goodbye to a lot of things, but the students themselves. That’s hard,” Cecile said. “But we were lucky and fortunate, and we talk about that when we get together – how much we love our work and love what we do.”

Krysteana Scribner can be reached at [email protected] or 780-9094. Follow her on Twitter: @krysteana2016.

Sisters Cecile LaPlante, left, Susan Donovan and Theresa LaPlante, photographed in Cecile’s classroom at South Portland High School, will retire at the end of this school year after a combined 117 years in education.

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