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Sad but grateful good-byes at Lewis Elementary School



by: ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - At a reception for five Lewis Elementary School teachers retiring in one fell swoop are, left to right: Cindy DiCenzo, Sylvia Jen, Teresa Pechette, Marta Vasquez, and Deborah Swan.“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds – for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.”

These words by Anatole France, Nineteenth Century French poet, journalist, and novelist, still ring true for elementary school teachers and students today. Teachers throughout the world engage young minds to learn for today and tomorrow. And every year, some retire. This year, five of them did at Lewis Elementary School.

With a collective 56 years of teaching at Lewis Elementary School (and a collective 134 years of teaching for Portland Public Schools), the five have spent much of their lives cultivating curiosity in children.

On June 10th, Lewis Elementary held an informal reception for the five retiring teachers who represent each grade of the school except fourth: Cindy DiCenzo, Kindergarten; Teresa Pechette, first grade; Deborah Swan, second grade; Marta Vasquez, third grade; Sylvia Jen, fifth grade.

Reviewing the history of these educators’ experiences at Lewis, one is reminded that the strengths of teachers shine through over the years, remaining personally and collectively as fond memories for children and parents.

A few comments solicited by THE BEE from the Lewis School’s extended community about the strengths of the five retiring teachers reveal the impact they have made on the school and its children and parents:

About Cindy DiCenzo: “She is an amazing writing teacher. When he was in kindergarten, my son Tristin wrote pages and pages. She really inspired him,” commented Amber Hilbourne, mother of now ten-year-old Tristin.

About Teresa Pechette: “I can’t say enough about Mrs. Pechette and Mrs. Lundeburg. [Christina Lundeburg, an artist and Mrs. Pechette’s sister, volunteered four days a week all year in the classroom to help with art.] They were faced with an extremely large class size this past year, and still managed to keep the school days full of learning, exploration, and creativity for each child every day. “This dedication to our school and to our children is how excellent teachers, like Mrs. Pechette, contribute to the betterment of our communities,” smiled Laurie Vella, mother of seven-year-old Luca, who added, “Mrs. Pechette was a really, really good teacher. I really like that she had a treasure box [full of little toys and books as a reward each day for students who had a ‘good day’].”

About Deborah Swan: “Her classroom was like a sanctuary – a place where each student was respected, loved and treated with compassion,” remembered Swan’s sister, who visited the classroom every year from out-of-state.

About Marta Vasquez: “I observed Marta teaching meaningful and challenging lessons. Research, writing, and public speaking are just a few of the learning activities that were a part of each day. Marta had high expectations for her students, and they enjoyed the positive learning environment that she created,” recalled Gloria Gedrose, a grandmother and former third grade teacher, who volunteered once a week in the classroom.

About Sylvia Jen: "Ms. Jen really prepared me for middle school, and taught me a lot (I had more homework in fifth grade than in the 1-1/2 years of middle school combined). She taught me how to balance my time between sports, activities, friends, and school,” confided Charlotte Nicholson, who had Ms. Jen as her teacher three years ago.