A career of memories tucked into a classroom

There are subtle reminders of her tenure.

The green chalkboard that remains intact near her desk. The alphabet and numbers lining the walls. And even some of the numerous photos of former students and their families next to the window.

Sixth-grade teacher Bonnie Kimball has been in this room so long that the number on the door, it was Room 10 in 1983, changed to Room 7. That all will change soon as South Colby Elementary School’s longest tenured educator will retire. With 44 years as a teacher, which started in Moreno Valley, Calif., Kimball is the most experienced teacher in the South Kitsap School District.

Kimball, 65, enjoyed the profession enough that she thought about teaching for 50 years at one point. Even stretching that to include volunteer and student-teaching work only gets her to 49 years, but Kimball said she still uses her longevity as an example to students.

“I tell my kids all the time that you’ve got to find something to love,” she said. “That’s how you make a positive difference in this world.”

Kimball said she tried to accomplish that with children in the most creative way possible. That ranges from creating tourist brochures to enhance learning about Latin America, which is the focus of sixth-grade social studies in SKSD, to simulations of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Races that run in early March in Alaska.

“You create different things,” Kimball said. “Their attention span tends to be that of a gnat.”

Brian Pickard, who has been the principal at South Colby since 1992, said Kimball has little difficulty with that.

“She’s always been able to laugh and enjoy kids,” he said. “Her sense of humor has been great with kids.”

Perhaps the most popular project involves water. As an incentive to get her students to read, Kimball’s class has a water fight near the conclusion of the school year. Students must read 4,000 pages to participate. As an added bonus, anyone who reads at least 7,000 pages gets to dump a bucket of water over Kimball’s head. She said one student read more than 30,000 pages last year.

“Boys would come past my desk reading a book saying, ‘Drip, drip, drip,’ “Kimball said. “They just love to watch the teacher squirm.”

It is those moments she cherishes.Kimball has opened her classroom to students on more than 5,000 school days, but she said none have been the same.

“Doing the same kinds of things every day would kill me,” she said. “I love the kids and people that are involved in education. Teachers are the heart of what goes on. We have some parents that appreciate what we’re doing and keep you coming back.”

With that said, Kimball simply feels it is time for her to retire. She noted her sixth-grade classroom, which has 31 students, features children with “abilities between preschool and 11th grade.” Kimball also cited frustrations with budget reductions and stringent testing that cut into resources, such as funding for the arts.

“There used to be a time where you could put on the play,” Kimball said. “It’s a tougher job than when I came in and I thought it was tough then.”

That challenge began as a kindergarten teacher in Moreno Valley. Kimball said her school was situated between two freeways with an airport nearby. She said that often made it difficult for students to hear her instructions. Kimball also recalls it being 118 degrees during the start of one school year, “extreme poverty,” the smog that prevented outdoor recess and a chalkboard in her classroom that had a plug in the middle of it.

Kimball, who never has married, said those are the among the reasons why it was not a difficult decision for her to follow her brother, who was hired to work on the Manchester Pier, to the area in 1982.

“I love the rain,” she said. “We just love the green.”

Kimball was on a replacement contract during her first year in SKSD. After exclusively teaching kindergarten in California, Kimball has taught sixth grade since she became a full-time hire in 1983 at South Colby. She frequently tells those who ask that she has no preference which grade she teaches. Kimball said the main difference with kindergarteners is that “you had to go to their world.”

A greater concern to Kimball is that she sees fewer young people getting into education. She hopes that more will emerge in the coming years at South Colby as a handful of other educators from her generation are approaching retirement and she feels the next set of teachers could glean from their “wisdom.”

In addition to being the school’s “centerpiece on the social side,” Pickard noted that Kimball is effective in producing strong results in the classroom. He said her students routinely have produced some of the district’s best results in standardized testing for math.

As for Kimball, she said she still will frequent South Colby. After all, there is the garden that rests just outside her classroom window dedicated to her parents that will need maintenance. And the cluster of children and parents who hoped to coax her into sticking around for another year or two. While she won’t teach next year, Kimball said she will volunteer at South Colby as a tutor.

“I’ll get to do that one-on-one that sometimes you don’t get with 31 kids,” she said.

Pickard said he’s excited that Kimball will continue to volunteer with the school.

“Her love and commitment toward her kids is unquestionable throughout the years,” he said. “She’s an icon here at South Colby. We expect to continue to see a lot of Bonnie.”

Before that, Kimball said she is excited to reflect on her past. She fractured her left leg last year during camp when she tripped on a tree root in the dark and now needs a knee replacement. But Kimball, aided by a cane, said she has held off on that until after multiple retirement ceremonies conclude. The first was Saturday at South Colby, while the next is from 2 to 5 p.m. June 23 at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor. She recently estimated that 165 former students have committed to attend that celebration. Kimball said their families also are welcome to come.

“I learned to get onto Facebook last year so I could find my far-flung students,” Kimball said. “That is the nugget that gets me past all of this.”


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