Mont Vernon teacher retiring
Dunn is sold on full-day kindergarten
MONT VERNON – Gretchen Dunn has loved teaching kindergarten at Mont Vernon Village School, but this year, it was better than ever.
Was that because it was the school’s first year of full-day kindergarten, because she’s excited about the new phase of her life she’s entering, or maybe a combination of both? Or maybe it was just the kids themselves?
"I wish I had one more year to learn what makes it so wonderful," she said as her class played during noon recess on Monday.
She’ll never know. Dunn, who has taught at Village School since 1977, is retiring. She has been here so long, she remembers when the school was housed in four rooms in the tiny Kittredge Road school building and partly in the McCollom Building. She remembers when there were no custodians and teachers had to clean up the building themselves with the help of sixth-graders. She remembers when the "gym" was a classroom.
Dunn does know that full-day kindergarten has made a tremendous difference for the 21 5-year-olds under her care this year.
"They are blossoming," she said. "They know more. They are happier. There is less academic pressure. We could do Friday dress-up days," which she said she would never have taken the time to do during a half-day program.
"You see the difference in their faces, in their smiles," Dunn said. "We were always hurrying up."
Dunn pushed for all-day kindergarten for years, and was so convinced that her students would benefit that she made changes in that direction herself five years ago. She eliminated the half-day morning and afternoon classes and held her classes on two full days and one half day for each class.
The new structure helped, but not as much as this year’s full-day program, she said.
Now, Dunn is looking forward to retirement. Not being tied to the school schedule is the big thing, she said, so there will be freedom to join her husband, Randy, on their 45- foot "fixer-upper" sailboat off the coast of Maine or join in family trips without working around the school calendar.
They want to travel, and there’s one grandchild and another on the way.
Dunn started her career in Milford in 1975, then went to Mont Vernon. When public kindergarten came to Village School in 2000, she found her home and never left it.
"It’s the smallness," she said about the school. "We take care of each other," as when her daughter, Katie, had cancer and the school community "stuck with us."
One part of her life will stay the same: aquatics. Dunn is a well-known swimming instructor, and will continue as manager of the Jasper Valley Swim & Tennis Club in Amherst and as a swimming teacher at Hampshire Hills Sports & Fitness Club in Milford.