This week, The Fincastle Herald dedicates a portion of the “Letters to the Editor” to retiring Breckinridge Elementary second grade teacher, Donna de Simone.
Congratulations to Mrs. Donna deSimone on her upcoming retirement after many years of dedicated teaching at Breckinridge Elementary. One of the best decisions that I ever made as the principal of Breckinridge School was to hire Donna straight out of college to fill a vacancy at Breckinridge many years ago. Donna was an excited, energetic young teacher who made a good impression on me and I hired her to fill a one year fifth grade vacancy. Her passion was to teach younger elementary children so after observing her work, I hired her to fill an upcoming second grade vacancy and she has been there ever since.
Donna has always been committed to her profession and she loves children and her job. She has always been an organized, enthusiastic, and highly competent teacher. Over many years she has never lost that enthusiastic spirit for her job. I remember her being one of the original “Breckinridge Belles,” a group of teachers who wrote, choreographed and performed for students at assemblies and other public gatherings for students and teachers. She has certainly become a master teacher, a model for others and a leader. Donna has always been dedicated to her students, doing everything she could to help them succeed. I have many fond memories of working with her and watching her work with students. She has dedicated her professional life to educating the children of Breckinridge School.
I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked with Donna deSimone for many years. She is one of the best and I wish for her many happy, productive years of retirement. She deserves our thanks and appreciation for a job well done!
Mrs. Donna de Simone,
You are a true representation of what it means to be an educator. Someone who is dedicated to every child that walks through the doors of the school. A person who has taught many generations, yet is always trying to find ways to meet the needs of the next generation. You were given a gift to serve and that gift kept giving for 43 years.
We thank you for the impact you have made and all the lives you have touched. You will forever be a Breckinridge Bear!
Principal, Breckinridge Elementary
Dear Mrs. de Simone,
As you know, I was a part of your very first class of second graders at Breckinridge Elementary. It was a special year for many reasons, not the least of which being that it was also the year you were married. The whole class was invited and I attended the ceremony along with fellow classmates. My suit was itchy and my clip-on tie dug into my neck, but it was a wonderful occasion all the same!
Many years later you taught, my oldest son, Jacob. Sometime between Jacob’s completion of second grade and my youngest son’s entrance into second grade, I ran into you at the school’s front office. You smiled and said to me, “One more to go!” I didn’t need an explanation. I knew you were excited about (and intent on) teaching my Matthew. And you did. I cherish the picture I have of the four of us, taken in the school that has meant so much to us all.
Those were all big moments. But I want to take time to mention a small moment, one I imagine you won’t recall.
I was just beginning to understand something about myself, something that I now know full well—I am a lover of language, creative writing in particular. Periodically you would take a simple picture, prop it against the chalkboard, and allow the class to participate in “free writes.” Anything would do, but the idea was that whatever we wrote should incorporate the picture in some way.
I remember how I poured myself into the activity and how, on one particular day, my writing spilled over into our in-class recess time. My friends urged me to hurry up and finish so we could play. I remember how you, gently but firmly, explained to them that they needed to let me continue writing until I was ready to stop.
That simple act communicated a great deal to me. I was just a child but I understood that it meant you understood me as an individual, that you were aware that I felt what I was doing was important, and that you too saw my writing as a meaningful activity. I’m 49 years old now and I’ve been writing ever since.
I suppose it’s impossible to measure the impact a teacher has on the lives of her students. Over the course of a career, that impact is most definitely immeasurable. But I do know that the unit of measurement by which such things are gauged is “the small moment” which, of course, is anything but small.
Thank you so much for the kindness, love, and support you showed to me, my two sons, and to all the students entrusted to you over the years. My family holds you very dear and we are all grateful for the service you provided with a touch that only you could have. We love you.
Class of 1979-1980
My friendship with Donna spans many years, both personally and professionally.
I was teaching first grade at Breckinridge Elementary when Donna arrived on the scene. She entered the primary wing after teaching fifth grade for one year.
I think her heart was always with the little ones from the start. Second grade became her permanent residence! She was a natural in beauty and teaching ability. I always have said, a true teacher is born with what it takes, it is not something you acquire all of a sudden. Donna had it!! The children and parents fell in love with her immediately!
When I moved up to second grade, Donna and I were a team from “the git go!” We each knew what talents and gifts the other had and we shared those in the way we worked together.
We leaned on one another, we learned from one another, we had fun together in the classroom, so the children had fun! That spilled over into our personal lives. I am so proud of Donna and her accomplishments. Teaching is a 24/7 job and Donna lived and breathed it!
Well done, my dear friend! Now embrace your retirement! Go, enjoy the first day of the rest of your life! There is life outside of teaching!
Love and best wishes!
Dear Mrs. de Simone,
Planning what to write to you took some time and thought. How could I best convey your teacher’s heart? For some unexplainable reason, Winnie-the-Pooh kept popping into my thoughts. Though I tried to put him out of my mind, I soon realized it wasn’t just Pooh I was thinking of – but the whole Hundred Acre Wood and the characters who lived there. They would best be able to illustrate the teaching legend, Mrs. de Simone.
Piglet, who saw the thrill of each new day, full of enthusiasm and hope. He once said, “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today.” Second graders came to your classroom each day expecting to learn something new, and they were never disappointed. Thank you for making school an adventure, full of exciting discoveries and laughter.
Eeyore, who so wanted to be loved but felt unseen and may have come off a little “thorny.” He once said, “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.” Oh, the second graders who may have walked into your classroom feeling like weeds – unappreciated, insecure, and guarded. Thank you for immediately seeing their needs and going to work to build them up academically, socially, and psychologically. Young lives were changed in Mrs. de Simone’s classroom.
Tigger, who bounded through life with an overabundance of energy. He once said, “The things that make me different are the things that make me, me.” Did you have any second graders who bounced into the room in the morning, bounced through the school day, and bounced all the way to the bus in the afternoons? Thank you for loving your students just the way they were and for appreciating and cultivating their unique gifts and talents.
Pooh, who was unhurried by life and always led with his heart. He once said, “Rivers know this: There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” Second grade is a transition year where dependent students enter and independent students exit. Thank you for building a bridge to independence but allowing students to cross over at their own pace and in their own way.
Christopher Robin, who was self-reliant and mature beyond his years. He once said, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think.” Second graders need teachers to build character and encourage a positive mindset. Thank you for giving your all to champion for children.
Mrs. de Simone, my coworker, friend, cohort in mischief, and spiritual sister, congratulations on a job well done. You will never be forgotten by the many children whose hearts and lives you’ve touched over your long teaching career at Breckinridge Elementary School. Winnie-the-Pooh once said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” As you now look forward to your retirement, I hope you feel lucky indeed.
Kathy (Bubs) Archer
Mrs. de Simone,
On May 28, history will be made, as second grade students leave the classroom of a teacher who has taught in the same classroom for 42 years.
Donna de Simone started teaching second grade in 1979, in a classroom with no walls. Now there are walls, but there have been many other changes throughout the 42 years…cranking out copies on a mimeograph machine that left purple ink all over your hands and face to making copies on a copier, keeping an attendance register in black ink only to entering attendance online, and writing on a dusty chalkboard to writing on a Smart Board.
There have been many changes in instruction as well, but some things have stayed the same. Mrs. de Simone’s passion for teaching and her love for her students have remained a constant throughout the years. Not only has Mrs. de Simone been highly regarded by the many students and parents over the years, but her colleagues at Breckinridge as well as throughout the school division consider her a model educator. It was a privilege for me to learn from Mrs. de Simone when I taught second grade with her for three years and then many years later when I served as her instructional supervisor.
You may be asking, “How do you replace someone who has taught multi-generations of students and taught in the same classroom for 42 years?” You don’t! You just continue to share stories of her remarkable teaching career and challenge all future teachers to model themselves after her. Although Mrs. de Simone is physically leaving the school this year, she leaves behind a legacy at Breckinridge that will remain there for many years to come, and for that we will be forever grateful.
Wanda Austin Martin
Congratulations on your retirement! You have been an asset to Botetourt County and the teaching profession. You have dedicated 43 years to the enrichment of children. While it hasn’t all been easy, you have made it seem that way.
You taught approximately 950 children, completed report cards about 235 times, and wrote over 5000 notes on those report cards. That, in itself, took dedication. The families of the children you taught got to enjoy your kindness and knowledge as you helped each become the best they could be.
The teachers you have worked with have also been very lucky. You encouraged and shared strategies and ideas with anyone who asked. I was fortunate enough to teach with you at Breckinridge for 34 years, the last four as a coworker. I think I speak for all when I say we became better teachers because of your dedication.
Enjoy the next chapters of your life. Take time for yourself, eat bonbons, and smell the roses!
Dearest Mrs. de Simone,
I was a mere 6 years old when I first met you as you were working with my mom teaching in your first year at Breckinridge. I remember that through my 5-year-old lens you were all the grace and beauty of a princess.
After first meeting you as my mom’s coworker, my oldest brother was lucky to be in one of your first ever classes at Breckinridge. After four years, it was my turn to get you as a teacher! You pushed me to work hard, to listen and obey, to enjoy school, and you did something more… you understood me. You saw that although I could be silly and laugh a lot that I was a very serious student. You took time to learn my interests and friends and you even nursed me through some tears. I looked back at my year with you as one of my favorites in all of elementary.
Two years later you taught my younger brother and all “Gates kids” were so excited to have had you as our teacher!
Little did I know, the story wouldn’t stop there… many years later I felt called to be a teacher myself…certainly teachers like you inspired me to do so. I had two beautiful kids and moved back to Fincastle. I joined the staff at Breckinridge and walked across the hall to see that I was now a coworker to my mentor! I learned to call you “Donna” instead of Mrs. de Simone and was amazed you actually thought I could give YOU ideas and advice! I’ll never forget the first PTA night when I was first introduced to Breckinridge as a former Teacher of the Year in Roanoke County. You said to me, “Wow, I’d like to think I had a small part in that.” You had a HUGE part in that, for sure, and what a blessing for me to get to learn from you as a coworker too!
A year later, my precious firstborn got to have you as a teacher, too! She came home all the time with stories about you and it reminded me of myself at her age many years before. You helped shape her good character and cultivated her love of learning. She came home telling her little sister how she hoped she, too, could get you as a teacher. Imagine our excitement when she did! You got to know her fun personality and cultivated her creativity and zest for learning! Yet another child in our family was positively impacted by you!
I celebrate you, Mrs. De Simone, “Donna.” The many years of service to the students of our school and community, the many teachers you mentored, and the positive impact you’ve had on so many lives. You will be forever remembered in my family as someone that helped shape and mold five of us into strong students and contributing adults.
Your role in my life has morphed from beautiful princess, mom’s coworker, our teacher, my coworker, my daughters’ teacher and, most importantly to me now, my dear friend. The friend who made sure she carried my last box out of Breckinridge, who hugged and supported me through childhood and adulthood tears and trials, the one who always is there for me, and the one who will go down in my life as one of the most impactful. I’ve moved on to now lead my own school and can only pray to have as great an impact on my students as you have in your brilliant career! Thank you for changing lives and enjoy your well deserved retirement! I’ll be there to move your last box, my friend!
Jenny Gates Griffin