June will mark the ending of an era for Sierra Ridge Middle School in Pollock Pines. Three beloved teachers will retire at the end of this school year.
Leeann Stewart, Jeff Medley and Libby Wheeler have all played integral roles in shaping Sierra Ridge Middle School and its many programs.
Medley has been with the school since it first opened in 1988. Stewart and Wheeler both started at Sierra Ridge in 1990.
Stewart, a language arts and history teacher, said she has always enjoyed the reenacting projects she has her students take part in.
“Reenacting the Civil War, the slave ships, bringing history to life and taking on personalities of great figures in American history, that’s what I’ve always loved,” she said.
Being a science and physical education teacher, Wheeler said her favorites have been hands-on projects.
“Molecule models, leaf projects, DNA molecules, I love watching the kids learn by being hands on,” she said.
Medley, however, was not able to narrow down any specific assignment he has enjoyed having his students do more than others.
“There are so many favorites I could not name just one,” he said. “I have a great time teaching English, I enjoy teaching history, I enjoy the kids — classes and projects are secondary.”
Sierra Ridge would not be the school it is today without these three teachers.
Stewart has been a vital part of many programs at the school including student council, reading buddies, spelling bee, graduation, AVID and the DC Club, among many others.
Affectionately known as the “Queen of Sierra Ridge,” it is not a surprise to most who know her to learn that Stewart actually got her start as a probation officer before becoming a teacher.
Fellow future retiree Wheeler put it best when she described Stewart as “the most strict but fair and fun teacher who kids admire.”
With more than two decades of being athletic director and coach at Sierra Ridge, and because of his great love and dedication to athletics in general, Medley has helped foster many student-athletes and their dreams of becoming the best they could be.
“Some of the best memories I have are winning championships,” he said. “So many football, basketball and track and field teams won championships and I love seeing the kids succeed. The eighth grade basketball games at Arco Arena (now POwer Balance Pavilian) are also great memories for me.”
Aside from teaching, Wheeler’s contributions to the school include serving as chairman of the school site council for 22 years and introducing yoga and Spanish to the students.
“The kids fought the yoga at first but then they really started to love and enjoy it,” she said. “And I really enjoy teaching the kids Spanish and being able to relate to the Hispanic kids in my classes.”
The practicality of how and what she teaches and the life-long lessons she imparts on her students are what Stewart described as the main strengths Wheeler has been bringing to classes during her time at Sierra Ridge.
As for Medley, there was no hesitation that his love for the students is what most will remember him by.
“He really does care about the kids so much,” Stewart said. “He would always try so hard to get them to be successful; he wants each and every student to succeed.”
There was an overwhelmingly unanimous opinion that the students are what these three retirees will miss the most about teaching at Sierra Ridge. All three also agreed that the rest of the staff, as well as the opportunities they have had to impact and change children’s lives for the better, will be greatly missed.
An era may be coming to a close for Sierra Ridge Middle School, but the best is still to come for each of these retiring teachers.
Stewart plans to spend time with her grandchildren, travel, garden, improve her quilting skills and volunteer in the community.
Wheeler’s plans are to substitute teach, teach private yoga, garden and “enjoy life.”
Medley plans to continue being a sports official, visit his son in London during the 2012 Summer Olympiad, visit all the California state parks, all national parks, all minor league baseball stadiums in California and all major league baseball stadiums in the United States.
Sierra Ridge secretary, Diane Sinetos, spoke for many when she described what the atmosphere will be like on the first day of school next year.
“Three teachers that have had major roles in kids’ lives will no longer be here, it just won’t be the same,” Sinetos said.
“As a former student myself, I can say that what each of these teachers has to offer is invaluable. They have all helped to positively influence my life and helped to make me the person I am today. I owe my love of writing to my eighth grade English teacher Leeann Stewart, my passion for athletics to Jeff Medley and my appreciation of the way the human body and nature work together to Libby Wheeler. For all of that, I will always be grateful.”
— Rachael McCoy