Jean Skorapa is the superintendent of RSU 5, which includes the towns of Freeport, Durham and Pownal.

In September 1970, my mother held my hand as we ascended the staircase of the primary school in Lincoln for my first day of school. The school was built in the early 1900s and I vividly remember the sound my new Buster Brown shoes made on those old wooden stairs. As I approached my kindergarten classroom door, I hid behind my mother, uncertain as to whether it was safe to go inside. A kind-faced woman wearing an apron approached and assured my mother that I would be all right. My mother gently released my hand, kissed my forehead, and walked away.

When my mother left, my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Kilbride, smiled at me and welcomed me inside. My anxiousness eroded quickly as I engaged in learning activities carefully placed on small tables in the room. After activity time, my class descended the stairs to the basement of the school where I bought a box of pretzels for a snack with the shiny new nickel my mother had put in my sweater pocket.

The school day seemed short, and it was, as kindergarten was a half day program. I am sure there were many more learning activities that day, but so much time has passed that I do not remember them. Right before we left for home, Ms. Kilbride gathered us all in front of a bulletin board for “Grandma’s Surprise.” On the bulletin board was a large cutout of an older woman with glasses, her gray hair in a bun, and wearing an apron with a large pocket. Ms. Kilbride reached into the pocket and pulled out a small treat for us all. This was the first of many Grandma’s Surprises that we had that year.

I loved school and Ms. Kilbride because she made learning so much fun. I always went to school enthusiastically, waiting for the many surprises Ms. Kilbride had in store for our class. In February of that year, I contracted the red measles and was unable to attend school for an extended period of time. I cried each day, begging my mother to let me go to school even though I was extremely sick. When I was finally well enough to return, Ms. Kilbride met me at the doorway of the classroom with a big smile on her face and a hug, telling me that she had saved Grandma’s Surprise for me.

The primary school closed shortly after that year and is now a senior housing facility. Ms. Kilbride passed away years ago, after educating and touching the lives of hundreds of children. Her love of learning, her kindness and her connection with all children impacted my professional life. It is because of Barbara Kilbride that I became a teacher and have stayed in the field of education for 36 years.

Each year in May, teachers are recognized nationally for their tireless efforts to make a difference for every child, each and every day, even when times are difficult. I encourage you all to reach out to a teacher and let them know how much they are appreciated. Thank you, Ms. Kilbride, I aspire to be just like you.

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