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30 Years of Magic with Debbie Marsh

by and on June 18, 2019 7:00 AM

The Arboretum at Penn State is a beautiful treasure and on a recent spring morning, Deborah Marsh, other teachers and some parents were teaching their young students to appreciate that beauty.

The lively kindergarten kids were listening to their teacher explain the rules for the morning and as they headed off in their groups with a parent or teacher, Marsh’s eyes still followed them. Their next stop was to be the children’s garden.

Marsh is retiring this month after 30 years of teaching. She grew up in Clearfield and received her undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Pittsburgh. She attended Western State College of Law in San Diego, Calif., but tragedy struck her family. With the loss of both mother and father at a young age, she was at a crossroads in her life. She left law school and decided to get a teaching credential from San Diego State University.

“It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” said Marsh. “Here I am 30 some years later, preparing to retire from the profession that I’ve loved so very much.”

Marsh taught in Fairfax County, Va., for several years, one year in Mechanicsburg, and the bulk of her career in State College.

“I enjoyed working at Park Forest Elementary School for over 20 years and have been at Easterly Parkway for the rest. I loved being at Easterly Parkway Elementary with its diverse student population and working with an amazing, nurturing staff. I couldn’t have asked for a more caring and engaging environment for the end of my teaching career,” she said.

“Our principal, Danielle Yoder, is very authentic and a strong and capable leader. She has a gift for lifting up her teachers and the staff. She reminds each of us that we have value — and that what we do each and every moment of the day is important. She truly believes in us and that is a powerful way to lead. I’m also so thankful for Lisa Spock and Courtney Beers, who have been teaching kindergarten with me here at Easterly. They inspire me every day and keep me laughing. They tell me if my shirt is inside out or if I have a poppy seed in my tooth.”

Each day teaching brought something special and that's what Marsh said she'll miss most.

“What I will miss is what I also love about teaching. I love that each and every day has magical moments," she said. Some of these involve students reaching above their comfort zone and achieving milestones in terms of reading or writing. Some might involve putting a Lego creation together or finishing the ABC Barbie puzzle.

“I love that they still believe in mermaids and unicorns. They know that the tooth fairy, fairy godmothers and the Easter bunny are real, and it is magical.”

Marsh loves that the kindergartners can fight with their very best friend and then turn around and hug it out as if nothing ever happened. They include everyone in their games and will find the person sitting alone and ask them to play, she said.

“In fact we have a saying, ‘We don’t say you can’t play’ and they take that to heart,” she said. “They are brutally honest and incredibly curious. They tell me if I’m having a bad hair day, if they think my clothes don’t match and that my beauty mark isn’t working very well. They want to know everything about everything, and their questions spark the most interesting conversations. Colette recently asked me this: ‘What if unicorns were real — which they are — and they thought that seahorses were real horses. Would they ride them with a harness?’”

Deborah Marsh talks with her kindergarten students during a recent lesson at The Arboretum at Penn State. The popular State College elementary teacher is retiring this year after 30 years of dedication to youth education. Photo by Connie Cousins/For the Gazette

Seeing Marsh in the classroom, it was easy to see why kids have loved and respected her for 30 years. She had activities for them to choose while getting settled and as some children scrambled out to eat breakfast. She had fill-in-the-blank sentences on the board for them to attempt, one by one. Yes, these kindergarten kids can read a lot of words already, some even reading at a second-grade level, according to Marsh. They all recited the basic rules in their class, greeted each other by drawing a slip of paper with a word that matched another students paper. The two stood and said good morning and shook hands. A great way to teach a few social graces, right? A time of sharing about their weekend followed.

It’s true that you get the truth from little kids. Asked about their teacher’s rules, and if she was strict, Ella, Joey and Juliette responded almost in unison and laughing, “Not so much. She’s definitely not mean.” Yomariela and Kella, who were also seated at the round table, joined in with giggles.

It was obvious they loved their teacher.

One of Marsh’s best friends, Sheila Abruzzo, who works in Learning Enrichment and Gifted Support at the State College Area High School, shared a little about her relationship with Marsh.

“I’ve known her for 27 years,” said Abruzzo. “We taught together at Park Forest Elementary and every Friday we enjoyed the end of the week together with all our kids. We have taken trips together — country music tours and shows — and shared a mutual love of gardening. Debbie is a fantastic teacher and a super friend. I am so happy that she is going to have time to travel and do more of the things she loves.”

Debbie Marsh has other talents in addition to teaching. She is a published author. Her book, “The Book of Frank,” is available on Amazon. For 10 years she wrote a local newspaper column titled “Notes from the Teacher.” The columns were funny, heartwarming and sometimes brought readers to tears as she described her day-to-day life in a kindergarten classroom.

“Those columns are among my proudest accomplishments. They brought me so much joy,” she said. “My own children, of course, and those I’ve taught are my proudest personal accomplishments.”

About the children Marsh said, “I will miss their smiles, their hugs, their laughter, their non-stop questions and their insatiable curiosity. But mostly I think I’ll miss their belief in all the magical things in life. You know, the mermaids and the unicorns. That’s what I’ll miss. The magic."

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Connie Cousins covers Centre County for the Gazette.
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