Twelve years ago, W.A. Bess Elementary School kindergarten teacher Jill Nichols was honored as the Gaston County Schools Teacher of the Year.
This year, the students from that class are graduating, and Nichols is retiring after a 30-year career in teaching.
The students she first taught as 5- and 6-year-olds reunited at W.A. Bess Elementary one recent morning, where they visited with Nichols and reminisced about their time together, recreated their class yearbook photo and described how their journey to graduation began on the learning rug in Nichols’ classroom.
“I feel like a lot of my successes came from having such a great support base, starting with teachers like Ms. Nichols who just care about you,” said Linnea Jurs, one of the top graduates in Forestview High School’s Class of 2016.
“It seems like just yesterday we were in this hallway meeting Ms. Nichols for the first time,” said her mother, Lisa Jurs. “I would like to tell all of my children’s teachers ‘thank you’ for all your hard work, your dedication, your energy; that it all really does make a difference.”
Nichols has kept in touch with many of her students over the years. She said she was thankful to see this class together again before they graduate.
“They’re a product of not just kindergarten, but every grade throughout their whole school years,” she said. “To be able to say that you were a part of that is something very spectacular. Being a teacher is just the greatest thing.”
After 30 years teaching, Nichols said, it will be hard not to return to the classroom in the fall.
“I love my time that I’ve put into this county. It’s truly hard to leave” Gaston County Schools, she said. “The people in this county stick together. We help each other be successful.”
As she said goodbye to her former kindergarteners, Nichols gave them each a hug and told them how proud she was of the young men and women they were becoming.
As they prepare for graduation, she said, she wants them to know: “I just love them. I’ve always loved them.”