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Lewis School teacher's retirement party draws decades of students

by: ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - At Deborah Swans retirement celebration: Hundreds of students from 25 years of Lewis Elementary classes. Here are a few of them; top row, from left: Cara Cooper 93, Amy Smith-Cary 93, Natalie Smith Swanson 95, Deborah Swan herself, Lillian Rose 2010, Emily Sklarz 2006. Bottom row from left - all of whom were from this years class: Espen Turner, Tristin Hilbourne, Maile Zenner, Sylvie Baures, and Delia Graham.At age eleven, Deborah Swan had a little school in her backyard. Each morning she would round up neighborhood children and teach arts and crafts, have relays, and play games from 8 am until 4 pm.

“I asked their parents for twenty-five cents a day; and after school I would hop on my bike, and ride to the 88-cent store for more supplies.”

Her passion for teaching has never ended. In her twenties Swan worked at a before-and-after-school program, then teturned to college, changed her major, and paid her way through Portland State University to get her teaching credential. At age thirty she began working at Vernon Elementary School in Northeast Portland, where she taught for five years, then moved to Lewis Elementary School where she taught second grade for the past twenty-five years.

To celebrate the end of Swan’s forty year career, Sarah Cooper and Katie Essick, whose children were students of Ms. Swan two decades ago, organized a party – “Deborah Swan’s Neighborhood Retirement Celebration” – that took place on Saturday afternoon, June 15, at the Woodstock Community Center, attended by several hundred former students and families.

“We had a blast organizing the event,” said Cooper. “It brought together parents over the decades who had fun getting re-acquainted with each other.”

“She is an amazing, magical teacher,” smiled Essick, who scanned twenty-seven classroom pictures into Facebook, spanning 1988-2013.

“By the end of the first day of school every year, you enter the classroom and she has [already] created an environment where the children are peaceful, serene, and happy. They love her gentle, vivid sense of humor. They excel academically, and quickly learn to be supportive, kind, and loving toward each other.”

During the celebration, former students ranging in age from seven to thirty-two years spoke of their teacher as one who showed compassion and respect for every student, and who taught them well.

Swan’s brother Mitch, sister Julie, and brother-in-law David, traveled from out-of-state to attend the celebration.

“Every year Deborah’s class called me on my birthday to wish me a Happy Birthday,” commented Mitch. Students at the celebration remembered those calls, and how much fun they were. “I would visit each fall, and meet the new class,” recalled Swan’s sister, Julie. In the assembly, I would think, “You have to have those mystical powers to have the students sit so still.”

Asked about the highlight of her Lewis career, Swan responded: “One of the things that I feel most proud about is working to keep the visual arts alive at Lewis through three principals, and continuing our incredible Art Night over several decades to this day.

“ I also feel proud of the relationships I developed with families each year, along with creating a positive classroom environment, filled with lots of laughter, singing, hard work, and academic growth.”

Swan’s retirement plans include supervising student teachers for Lewis and Clark College, and possibly volunteering at the Portland Art Museum, and/or serving on the Board of Directors for Portland Choirs. Continuing a tradition of snorkeling in Kauai and practicing Ai Chi (Tai Chi in the water) will aid in her retirement relaxation.

Twenty-seven classroom pictures and retirement celebration photos are still posted on Facebook: “Deborah Swan’s Neighborhood Retirement Celebration.”