More than a teacher, Edwards to step down after 41 years

For Mary Beth Edwards, it wasn’t really a choice. She was from
San Benito County, loved the area and wanted to raise her kids
here. And above all else, she loved teaching kindergarten.
For Mary Beth Edwards, it wasn’t really a choice. She was from San Benito County, loved the area and wanted to raise her kids here. And above all else, she loved teaching kindergarten.

Over the years, the Sunnyslope Elementary School teacher has witnessed many changes in education and the county.

Today, Edwards sees more single-parent families, more double-income homes and more children growing up with their grandparents.

She’s seen kindergarten increase from a grade with a fairly unstructured curriculum to one with an increased emphasis on academics. She has seen the city grow from 7,000 to 35,000 residents.

And when Edwards retires in June, she will have spent her entire career – 41 years – with the Hollister School District.

Parent requests

Colleagues agreed that Edwards is well respected in her profession. She even had parents request her as a teacher.

“There were a lot of parents wanting their kids in her class,” said Trustee Harry Samuelson, and the former principal of Sunnyslope School when Edwards began teaching at the school in the mid-1960s. “The parents knew they’d get a really well-rounded program.”

Former Sunnyslope teacher and long-time friend Edwina Young said Edwards is so well liked that she’s taught every child in some families.

“I don’t know how many times we’ve been in restaurants and people would come up to her,” Young said. “The parents seemed to have an appreciation of what she did for their kids.”

Lanetta Bishop remembers Edwards teaching her son, Paul, back in 1961, Edwards’ first year as a teacher.

“I remember she was a very good teacher,” Bishop said. “Paul was a real sharp kid, so she had to think of things to keep him occupied.”

Bishop said Edwards went well beyond the call of duty. Paul “flunked” shoe-tying that year because he didn’t wear shoes with laces so Edwards spent extra time teaching him how to tie his shoes so that he would pass the test.

“She did extra things for the kids,” Bishop said. “She loved every single one of them.”

Edwards is humbled by the respect she receives from parents since she believes parents are also teachers.

“Parents don’t realize that they’re the teachers (of their children) for the first five years,” she said.

Not a status-quo teacher

When describing Edwards as a teacher, Young knew one thing that she wasn’t – a status quo teacher, one who teaches the same things every year.

Every time a new workshop was offered, Edwards participated, Young said.

Edwards loved learning new things, new ways to teach, she said.

Edwards admitted she loves teaching arts and crafts to her students even though they are not required subjects.

Because Edwards has kept current by attending and giving workshops, she has served as a mentor to teachers in the Hollister School District, especially younger ones.

And even though class sizes are smaller at 20, many teachers still have problems.

“I feel sorry for the young teachers, they aren’t lasting. They last five years, then they’re dropping out,” she said. “It’s definitely a challenge.”

Bishop agreed that Edwards has helped many young teachers make the transition into the classroom.

“It will be a shame to lose her,” Bishop said. “She’ll be hard to replace. She’s a mainstay there (at Sunnyslope). She’s a mentor to newer teachers – that’s hard to find.”

A career with children

Edwards, originally Mary Beth Overfelt from Hollister, started her college education at Berkeley were she studied medicine. During her junior year, she changed majors to education because she was having trouble with math and chemistry.

But even as a doctor, Edwards would have worked with children because she wanted to be a pediatrician, she said.

In 1961, Edwards received her bachelor degree in education from San Jose State University. When searching for a job, Edwards noticed the former Fremont Elementary School had a kindergarten teacher position open. She taught two classes of kindergarten there and then moved to Sunnyslope in 1965.

“She’s a very good teacher, a very patient lady,” Samuelson said. “She’s always got something going for the kids. I was very happy to have her on my staff.”

Although Sunnyslope’s campus has expanded over the years, Edwards has retained her position in Room 1 for 37 years.

Young said Edwards has remained in the district for so long because she is from Hollister.

“Home is here. She likes the home community. She liked being here. She liked living in Hollister,” she said.

Seasons of change

The most noted difference in teaching kindergarten now and in the 1960s is the increased emphasis on academics today, Edwards said.

“When I started, we were pretty much on our own with curriculum,” she said. “It’s become more academic. We’re teaching phonics already and that’s hard for some students who haven’t attended preschool or head start. We’re almost teaching first grade.”

Forty years has also changed the face of the family. There are more single-parent families, more dual-earning families and more children living with their grandparents.

Edwards said the change in family life can be positive or negative, depending on the family.

“When both (parents) are working, the kids aren’t at home, they’re with babysitters,” she said. “For a lot of them (kids), they go home and it’s not a very pleasant place. It’s a whole different story now.”

Also, students are more computer literate than in the past, more so than some teachers. Sunnyslope has several computers and students work on them once or twice a week for 30 minutes.

However, some things have remained the same. Edwards still loves teaching arts and social studies, even though the subjects have become more academic.

“I still get (arts and social studies) stuck in there somewhere,” she said. “I’m still hands on.”

Retirement

“These have been fun years. I wake up at 5. I know I’ll miss it,” Edwards said.

The 63-year-old decided to retire as soon as she had her grandchildren as students. She has two children, Darcy and Norman.

Last year, Edwards had Darcy’s set of twins as students.

“The only reason she stayed this long was her grandkids,” Samuelson said.

Young said with Edwards retiring, it will “leave a big hole in kindergarten.”

Edwards, however, has some plans after stepping down. She sings in the Methodist Church Choir and is a member of the Asilomar Regional Reading Conference Board and the San Benito County Reading Council. She is also a 4-H leader.

Edwards participates in three time-shares in Hawaii and Palm Springs and plans on spending time there, along with playing some tennis and traveling.

And every once in a while, she may substitute teach.

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