MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When graduating Brainerd seniors grabbed their diplomas this year, a number of them received a gift they weren’t expecting. It came in the form of a personalized letter from two teachers who gave them their start.
Linda Philp and Sharon Jendro began teaching at Brainerd elementary schools 42 years ago. A dozen years later, they began a tradition that continues to this day.
Sitting at her kitchen table, Philp, a retired Brainerd kindergarten teacher, recalled with fondness the faces of her many students.
“My first year was 1970-71,” Philp said.
Precious memories fill the pages of the three-ring binders laid out in front of Philp and fellow first grade teacher Sharon Jendro.
Both of them retired from teaching back in 2004, but their caring for the students each had is clear. Looking at pages of old photographs, worksheets and crayon drawings, they have the makings of a gift of surprise.
“You really do love these kids and they’re part of your family, your school family – so that’s why I started,” Philp said.
What they started was the spring ritual of sending personalized letters to graduating seniors. Each of those graduates is a student they taught in kindergarten and first grade. It’s a tradition they began when the students in their very first class in 1971 were graduating Brainerd High School seniors in 1983.
“I always sign it, your first grade teacher and friend, Mrs. Jendro,” Jendro said.
Brainerd graduate Arielle Rutledge was pleasantly surprised.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Rutledge said.
Both Rutledge and classmate, Dalton Tibbets, were surprised when each received their letters from Philp.
“Someone that remembers you and cares enough to come up with pictures, drawings and come to graduation night, not many teachers do that, so it’s very nice,” Tibbets said.
Inside each letter is a handwritten note recalling something positive the student did. They also include individual and class photographs along with other early school memories.
“She said congratulations, I hope you succeed in all you do, whatever it is, your friend, first grade teacher, Mrs. Jendro,” said Brainerd graduate Courtney Jones.
Reading from her letter, Kiara Skogman smiles as she comes to the line, “you are just as beautiful as you were in kindergarten.”
They’re kind and congratulatory words of future encouragement — penned by the teachers who were there from the very start.
“The depth of that caring shown by the letters I think, the love and dedication, the caring, it just goes on forever,” Philp said.
Both teachers say it gives them tremendous satisfaction seeing the students’ success. Because both retired in 2004, their final class of students will graduate in 2016.