Chapman School is honoring retiring teachers Donna Austin and Linda Brady with a community potluck retirement party at 6 p.m. Friday.
Community members, including current and former students and their parents, are invited to share a dish and a story at the Chapman School Gym, according to Chapman School secretary Debbie Poindexter. Both Austin and Brady leave a unique legacy at the school.
Austin is Chapman’s most veteran teacher with 33 years under her belt, said Chapman School principal Conrad Woodhead. After moving to Anchor Point from her hometown of Anchorage, Austin started at Chapman School in 1983 as a special education aide. After two years in special education, she taught in the Quest program for three years and then moved into teaching the lower grades. She had a second-grade class at Chapman, as well as first-second-third and first-second combination classes.
Though she started out wanting to teach the second grade, the majority of Austin’s three decades at Chapman were spent teaching kindergarten. She found joy and fulfillment in teaching the younger children and giving them a positive learning experience at the beginning of their school careers.
“I really like that level of learning. I like the excitement of them meeting their goals. All the little a-ha moment when they learn a concept; it’s real exciting to see their little milestones accomplished,” Austin said. “I think in the first few years they should love school and want to be here. I want to give them a really good start.”
Austin works with students on an individual level, tailoring her class instruction to meet each of her kindergartner’s needs, Woodhead said. Part of ensuring each student has a positive learning experience is weaving their interests seamlessly into the curriculum when possible.
“Right now we have a group of boys that are really into the dinosaur thing so she can tie that in,” Woodhead said. “It’s pretty neat to see her be able to do that and she just does it naturally, which is really cool.”
Austin has also been a resource to other teachers at Chapman, providing supplies and materials from her 33 years of experience, Woodhead said.
“Teaching has been my life and I’ve enjoyed it so much,” Austin said. “I would never trade it. It has been a wonderful, wonderful profession.”
Though she is retiring from teaching, Austin plans to pursue her own creative endeavors, including carving and painting, and gardening at her cabin. Her main reason for retiring, however, is so she can go up to Anchorage more often to help her mother with her father, who has Alzheimer’s. She and her husband will also visit their grandchildren in Oklahoma, Austin said.
Working for the Kenai Peninsula School District helped realize Brady’s dream of teaching special education in Alaska, she said. After raising her two sons in Nevada, Brady went back to school so she could be a teacher. She applied for jobs all over Alaska and was accepted for positions in every borough except one, Brady said. She moved to Ketchikan in 1999. On a trip to the Kenai Peninsula with her brother, she decided she wanted to live here.
Brady started at Nikolaevsk School as a special education teacher in 2000, then moved to Ninilchik School to teach second and third grade. In 2007, Brady secured a position with Chapman as a special education teacher. Brady was awarded a Golden Apple award by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in March for her work with special needs students.
“The thing I’ve always appreciated about Linda is she works with our resource kids — the kids that need our help,” Woodhead said. “She can seemingly pull effort out of kids that no one thought possible. It’s neat to see her transform what learning looks like for those kids and when they get excited about learning, she gets excited.”
Brady is donating the estimated 8,000-12,000 books in her classroom to the school at the end of the year, she said. The collection will more than double the contents of Chapman’s school library, Woodhead said.
Brady’s classroom library has been her pet project for the last nine years. Her classroom has become an unofficial extension of the library for many of the kids at Chapman. If children ask for a book she does not have, she orders it. Even Brady is unsure exactly how many books currently reside in her classroom.
“We’re going to try to do a count before the end of the school year, but I really don’t know. I think there are 41 shelves and probably easily 200-300 on each one,” Brady said. “There are a bunch; I spend anywhere from $300-400 a month on them and I’ve been doing it for many, many years. And there’s probably just as many at the kids’ houses, but as long as they’re enjoying them, that’s probably okay.”
Brady plans to travel with her husband across the United States once the school year is over, she said. Their current itinerary for their trip is to see family and “kick back and enjoy life.”
“My husband hasn’t seen a lot of the United States,” Brady said. “He’s been overseas quite a bit, so we’re going to hop in a car and go.”