Lakeridge class of ’97 reunites as class of ’09

Who can forget their kindergarten teacher?

Who can forget their kindergarten teacher?

Seventeen former students of retired Lakeridge kindergarten teacher Karen deKlaver didn’t. Fondly remembered as an energetic, bubbly and inspiring person, deKlaver was the guest of honor at an informal reunion on June 7, organized and hosted by parents and the now grown-up high school graduates of the class of 2009. While most Island seniors focused on looking forward, her last class from the 1996-1997 school year cast a salutatory glance back.

DeKlaver taught kindergarten at Lakeridge Elementary School for 10 years until stepping down in 1997. She said the decision came after starting her own family at the end of that year. Most expected deKlaver to eventually return, but after she gave birth to a second child, she decided to retire. Before she did, she managed to form a close bond with those students from her final year.

“When I think of those kids and their parents, I think of the following words: joyful, energetic, driven, full of love and happiness,” she said, punctuating her words with an exclamation point.

One of her former students, Chelsea Jurkovich, described the class as a sort of crossroads where the lives of Islanders, so close-knit to begin with, returned to again and again. She first met one of her closest high school friends, Ally Bray, in the class. The reunion was something that they all made time for.

“It was cool to see everyone again,” Jurkovich said of her former classmates. “It was also nice to see their parents again, some of whom I haven’t seen in a while.”

Both the former students and their parents met at the home of another former student, Danielle Morris, to celebrate the reunion. They caught up with deKlaver and shared their favorite memories from her classroom: Learning how to write letters with shaving cream on their desks; tracking green-colored footprints made by a “leprechaun”; or singing along to Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “What a Wonderful World.”

Megan Haggerty, who remembered her kindergarten teacher as “tall, blonde and beautiful,” recounted a daily exercise that involved opening the class windows and letting out all of the “bad fuzzies” (negative thoughts and feelings) and letting in all of the “warm fuzzies.” DeKlaver’s caring, personal approach was something that many of the students remembered. They were delighted to find that their teacher had not changed.

“She’s still that really nice, caring person,” Haggerty said.

For a number of years, the popular kindergarten teacher made a tradition of treating each of the children to ice cream at the local Baskin and Robbin’s parlor and visiting their homes — individualized attention that some parents say is rare today.

“They probably wouldn’t allow that nowadays,” said Cindy Gebhart, whose daughter, Gennie, was a student in that final class. “[She] laid the foundation in kindergarten for a love of learning, the respect for teacher and classmates, and a desire to explore.”

Of the 24 students in that kindergarten class of 1997, 18 graduated from MIHS, four still live on Mercer Island but attended schools off Island and two have moved out of the area.

Toward the end of their visit, the students gathered for a photo in the exact same order as they had done 12 years ago, recreating a picture that still hangs on Nikki Thelan’s wall. It is a treasured memento.

“It’s just a great memory to have,” she said. “Seeing everyone in my grade, and now we’re all grown up.”