Founded in 1982, Almaden Country School came to life with the ideal that all children learn differently and possess many gifts beyond that of strictly math and reading. This philosophy was a clarion call to many passionate and dedicated teachers who too believed that students should love learning and one size did not fit all. Teachers like Mrs. Sharon Wilkus and Mrs. Karen Tomkins were among the first to be hired for Almaden Country School while Mrs. Barbara DeMoss joined them in 2011. Collectively, these three teachers represent over a century of teaching experience. Now, as they prepare to retire from education, they are looking ahead to their future.
Mrs. DeMoss taught as a full-time elementary school teacher for over 30 years in countries such as Romania, Japan, and Singapore before she joined the Almaden Country School faculty. Though she enjoyed being an elementary teacher she was delighted to shift to a new role that allowed her to focus on science. She loved seeing the students grow year after year as well as the free rein to create the hands-on, inquiry-based science program we have today. "I wanted to create a curriculum that did not rely on reading and answering questions. I know children learn best by doing. It's true whether you're in kindergarten, third grade, or eighth grade. It's true in science," she reflected. Mrs. DeMoss also stressed the importance of working in groups and partners for increased resiliency. "The conversation is where the discovery happens -- the "aha" moments. They talk about why something didn't work and work through it."
Mrs. Sharon Wilkus, long-time yearbook advisor and art educator, is also well known for pushing her students in art. Class of 1997, alumna Stephanie Lam didn't realize it at the time that when her teacher Mrs. Wilkus had said, "Figure it out," that that was when she had "connected with her art" and made it hers. "I got to play around, and experiment and grow my brain and have a good time at the same time," Stephanie laughed. "In college, you do a lot of sitting and listening which is...good...but I really appreciated the hands-on learning I did in art class." She is now a full-time artist whose paintings are currently hanging in the Triton Museum in Santa Clara. She attributes her chosen path to Mrs. Wilkus. In turn, Mrs. Wilkus cites that her biggest accomplishments are the accomplishments of her students who have won numerous accolades for their artwork and yearbook themes over the years, including the San Jose Mercury News Ad Challenges, Almaden Art & Wine Festivals, AAA National Poster Contests, and more. "It's really rewarding to see my students' progression in art and design over the years," Mrs. Wilkus beamed. "I will also definitely miss the family-like environment and the students."
Echoing those same sentiments, Mrs. Karen Tomkins was also nostalgic. "I have taught third grade for over thirty years and I will miss witnessing my students' successes and growth." She has also served as Elementary Head at Almaden Country School while teaching. She often jokes that she is the "biggest kid" anywhere. School founder, Mrs. Nan Hunter professes that this is, in fact, Mrs. Tomkins' gift. "She has the heart of someone who deeply understands children and who they need to be. This made her a perfect fit for Almaden Country School." Mrs. Tomkins is also a San Jose local who has even taught at her own elementary school but chose to stay at Almaden Country School because "it was the right thing to do." She shuddered when recalling a time when she had to teach a third grade curriculum to first graders. "It was absolutely wrong and I got out of there as soon as I could. Those poor children!" she lamented. She was also a teacher who could make any subject interesting. "Mrs. Tomkins is my favorite teacher – she made things I didn't like to do, like writing, fun. I have great memories of third grade," shared eighth grader Tate Hackett.
Students are often surprised when they run into their teachers at the movies or the supermarket, to see them outside of their teacher role but of course, our teachers have families, hobbies, and interests outside of school and our retiring teachers are no exception. Mrs. DeMoss is an avid quilter and is looking forward to spending time with her family including five grandchildren. "I love the idea of unstructured time and am ready for this new chapter," she remarked. Mrs. Wilkus has big plans on her own as well. She and her husband Gerry are relocating to Medford, Oregon where a new home is being built. Mrs. Wilkus, a former sculpture welder, will also focus on her painting. "Mrs. Wilkus will always have art in her heart," Principal Emeritus, Mrs. Jean Delwiche said affectionately. Mrs. Tomkins is also looking forward to spending time with her family and having free time to just pick up a book to read. "It'll be bizarre at first, having no schedule, being in my pajamas all day if I want to. It'll be new," Mrs. Tomkins smiled.
As Head of School Dr. Olaf Jorgenson often says, "A great school is always becoming," it is important to acknowledge how much these beloved teachers have contributed to the shaping of Almaden Country School by furthering our mission, adopting cutting-edge tools, and their employing of tried-and-true methodology that reached every child in their classroom.
All three retiring teachers, Mrs. Tomkins, Mrs. Wilkus, and Mrs. DeMoss, are preparing for the next chapter in their lives as the school year wanes to a close. Their hearts are wistfully looking back at their long teaching careers, acknowledging just how much love they have for their students, but they are also looking ahead to taking on new projects, new adventures, and in some cases, becoming a student again by learning new skills. "I love the children and I will miss the children. They don't know this because I am their teacher first and foremost. They won't miss me as much as I will miss them and that's right. This means they are ready for the next chapter in their learning life," Mrs. DeMoss said while nodding her head, her eyes shining.
We will miss and hold dear all that these teachers have done for all of the children that have passed through our doors and will continue to carry their torch.