RETIRING TEACHER REFLECTS ON STUDENTS' CAN-DO SPIRIT
Catherine Bars shakes her head in
She is recalling the magnitude of the hectic situations Kay Stoneberg calmly handled during her 30-year career as a special education teacher in the La Grande School District.
The moment for reflection was appropriate because Stoneberg, 54, is retiring.
"Nobody can imagine how the class will work next year,'' said Bars, an education assistant at LHS who worked for Stoneberg.
Bars explained that Stoneberg brought calm to situations ripe for chaos.
"She is so good at orchestrating things. There could be a behavior crisis and the phone would be ringing, but she always was level-headed.''
All while getting her students to embrace learning.
"She instilled a love of learning and curiosity in her students,'' Bars said.
Stoneberg taught special education students at Central Elementary School the first six years of her career and spent the remainder at La Grande High School.
At LHS she often had students for many class periods over the course of a day for six years. Close bonds develop over such a duration, she said.
But having the students for multiple periods each day has a down side. When students misbehave, they do not move on to another classroom where nobody knows what just happened.
Stoneberg coped with behavior problems by acting as though all was forgotten when the bell rang for a new period.
"I would give them a clean slate. Nothing carried over,'' said Stoneberg, a 1969 graduate of La Grande High School.
Students in her classes learned many life skills including how to balance a checkbook, find an apartment and even run a business. Her students ran Taste of the Tiger, the LHS coffee shop.
Stoneberg also taught her students lessons in respect. The lessons started when students were asked to take off hats
and caps when they walked into her
"I wanted to teach common courtesy and respect. Besides, I like seeing their faces and their eyes when I talk to them,'' Stoneberg said.
When talking to her students, Stoneberg said she never put limits on their horizons or goals.
This reflected a sincere belief in her students. Stoneberg prefers not to think of special education students as limited.
"I like to think of them as differently abled,'' she said. "They can still do a lot of things. Sometimes they must learn how to do them a little differently.''
Stoneberg worked hard to get her students' different learning abilities to kick in. Students were her lone focus in class. She never shifted her responsibilities to teacher aides.
"I didn't turn my back on students and sit down and do paperwork,'' Stoneberg said.
Special education teachers have an enormous amount of paperwork to do, so the temptation to do it during class is great. Stoneberg, though, chose to do hers before and after school and on weekends.
"She was very dedicated. A couple of hours after school the other teachers would be gone, but she would still be there. ... Her car would be there on Sundays,'' Bars said.
Stoneberg was motivated to give 100 percent in part because her students are so driven.
"They give everything they have. A lot of people don't give 100 percent." Her special education students "may be limited in what they have to offer, but they always give 100 percent.''
Stoneberg made sure that her students' uncommon efforts received a memorable salute when they graduated. A colorful party for each graduating student was hosted in her classroom.
"The students really liked them. They never forgot them,'' Bars said.
The parties symbolized the feelings Stoneberg has for her students.
"I always honored them with a special event in the classroom,'' she said. "I wanted to create a special time for them.''
Stoneberg noted that the parties were particularly important for some students because their families could not afford a big celebration.
Stoneberg's immediate plans call for her to make more trips to Los Angeles with her husband, Knute, to see their daughter, Tara.
Stoneberg will stay connected to special education students through the Union County Special Olympics program, which she has worked with for many years. She hopes to continue to help out with skiing.
More chapters will thus be added to an educational legacy not to be forgotten.