Friday marked the end of the school year and the official start of summer vacation for students at Hollywood School in Brookfield. Students and faculty also bid farewell to kindergarten teacher Linda Schirmer, who retired following 23 years at Hollywood and 28 in District 96.
Schirmer began as a special education teacher at Central School in Riverside. She left after five years to raise her family, but returned to teach kindergarteners at Hollywood in 1986.
“There aren’t many schools like Hollywood,” Schirmer said. “Your involvement with people goes beyond the school day.”
Schirmer noted that since she lives nearby, she frequently encounters students outside the school environment.
“The connection is something that doesn’t just stop,” she said. “It doesn’t go away. I have loved my time at Hollywood. There’s a real family feeling.”
Schirmer said parents sometimes have invited her to visit their homes for lunch or other social events. On many occasions, Schirmer has shared her own life with her students.
“She travels every summer, and she always brings something back,” said second-grade teacher Janice Johnson. One year, she taught students about music with a didgeridoo, a wind instrument she brought back from a trip to Australia.
“She brings her love of nature and animals to the classroom,” said colleague Jenny Barhorst, who teaches first grade.
After two decades of summer vacations, Schirmer said she has amassed a collection of items which can be used to teach.
“If another teacher needs something, they know to come to me,” she said.
Students not only hear stories about the occasional trip abroad, but also about her family, including her husband, two sons and her golden retriever, Cody, who Principal Vicki DeVylder described as “her third son. He does everything with her, and he’s a really important part of her life.”
“I like having the children know about me and my family,” Schirmer said, adding that occasionally a student might yell from across the street, “How’s Cody?”
“I think the kids need to see the personal side,” she said.
Schirmer is “very passionate about the whole kindergarten experience,” said Barhorst. “If you could say someone made it their life’s work, it would be Linda.”
That passion has brought about many memorable experiences for both students and faculty, including an annual reenactment of the first Thanksgiving feast, incorporating the kindergarten and first grade classes.
It has been a tradition since 1986, Barhorst said. Students from one class play the roles of the Pilgrims, while the others represent Native Americans. “She has a beautiful Native American dress she wears,” Barhorst said. “She loves to bring those experiences to kindergarten.”
Other memorable activities include the search for the Gingerbread Man, who runs through DeVylder’s office. “I’m going to miss all the special things Linda includes me in every year,” DeVylder said.
Many of these activities have become annual events. “Even though I’ve been doing them for 23 years, I don’t get tired of them,” Schirmer said. “When you see through the eyes of the kids, with such awe, it gives you energy and keeps you going. Kindergarten is a fun grade to teach.”
Colleagues said they will miss Schirmer’s personal touch.
“We always talked sports in the morning,” remembered fifth-grade teacher Brian Trimmer. “She’s a big sports fan, especially the Cubs. She told me she was sad when she was growing up, because there weren’t any sports for girls to play.”
DeVylder noted that when a faculty member’s birthday was going to be observed, Schirmer often would be the one to bring a card and birthday cake. Colleagues note, though, that Schirmer does not seek out the same kind of attention for herself.
Nevertheless, the school honored the departing teacher by designating Thursday, May 28, as “Mrs. Schirmer Day.”
Johnson said each classroom had a presentation to honor Schirmer, who also was presented with a memory book featuring reminiscences from former students
Schirmer said she and her husband expect to be able to do more traveling in the future. Schirmer also shared a few parting remarks for her students.
“I’m still amazed that I can get such a thrill seeing and hearing the children starting to read,” she said. “Hearing a whole class of 5 and 6 year olds reading to me is one of the most rewarding moments. It’s like music to my ears.”