For 37 of the past 38 years, Ann McCollom has helped Crothersville Elementary School kindergartners start their educational paths.
Setting that pace is a big responsibility.
Over the years, the school has gone back-and-forth with half-day and full-day kindergarten, and the expectations of students at that level have changed, too.
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But McCollom has met those changes head-on and made the best of it all with her students in mind.
After 38 years of service with the school, she has decided it was time to retire.
“As I’ve said several times these last few weeks, I’ve never felt like I’ve gone to work because it’s just fun,” she said. “We have really worked to make it fun but educational. We want them to come and want them to enjoy themselves, and we want them to know that learning is fun.”
The Knightstown native said she was drawn to education after hearing the stories of her parents working in a one-room schoolhouse during the war.
“That’s just what I always wanted to do,” she said of becoming a teacher.
She graduated from Knightstown High School in 1974 and then earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a physical education minor from Ball State University.
McCollom then put her name out there and was contacted by Crothersville school officials about coming to work there.
“I didn’t even know where Crothersville was. I had to look it up on a map, actually,” she said.
Her father joined her on the trip to the small southeastern Jackson County community for an interview at the school.
She wound up landing a job as a second-grade teacher and a junior high coach.
“My minor was PE, and that’s how I actually got the job because they saw my minor and they were needing a junior high coach,” said McCollom, who coached volleyball, basketball and track and field for junior high and junior varsity volleyball during her tenure.
She was one of about 10 teachers hired at Crothersville that year but was the only second-grade teacher. Of the five elementary teachers hired, she stayed the longest — another one retired in recent years, while the others moved on to other jobs.
After a year teaching second grade, McCollom applied for an open kindergarten position.
“I didn’t know how I felt about that, but once I got here, I loved it, so that’s where I stayed,” she said.
While going from teaching second grade to kindergarten didn’t seem like a big deal to her then, McCollom said that perspective changed over the years.
“Kindergarten is so much different now than when I started,” she said. “If we got letters and sounds back then, we were tickled. Now, the state expects them to know their letters when they come into kindergarten. Plus, we had half-day forever. And now, most of my kids were reading when they left. There’s just so much expected of them now. It’s just so different.”
McCollom said full-day kindergarten is more beneficial for the students.
“When I had them for half-day … I didn’t get to know them as well. Our days were just slammed,” she said. “Not that they are not slammed now, but we can extend. Like in the morning, we do math and reading, but in the afternoon, we can enrich that. We can do small groups where we can really get into it and help the kids really pick up what they are having trouble with, so we get to know them a lot better.”
She said the kindergarten teachers also work hard on having the students be independent. For instance, if a student makes a mess in the classroom, the teacher encourages he or she to clean it up.
“You can tell they are not used to doing a whole lot for themselves, so we really try to make them think. Their parents sometimes come in and go, ‘How did you get them to do that?’ Well, it’s just what we expect,” McCollom said.
“I know when they go to first grade, the teachers don’t think they are, but when they leave us, boy, they are a lot more independent than they were when we got them,” she added.
As her students continued on through school, McCollom said liked seeing how they progressed.
“It’s just interesting because some of them change so much and some of them stay just exactly the same,” she said.
One boy used to miss school often in kindergarten but had perfect attendance in fourth grade. She recently saw that student and acknowledged his accomplishment.
“He just beamed,” she said. “I think that’s because you pay attention and you see how they did.”
She said it was frustrating to see kids with so much potential not use it. But more often, she would hear the success stories of former students becoming doctors, lawyers, nurses and other professions. A few of them have even gone on to be teachers, including two who returned to Crothersville — Ashley Spicer and Cassondra Kelly.
Looking back on her career, McCollom said she was fortunate to have good teachers to work alongside.
“We’re a small school, and we’ve all been family, and we all feed off each other. If you have a problem, you can talk to somebody else, and usually, somebody comes up with an answer. That has always been helpful,” she said.
“We’ve had a lot of people retire since I’ve been here, and we have a younger staff, which has brought in a lot of new ideas,” she said. “The technology is so different, and they just do it innately, where it’s like ‘Can you help me with that?’ and they are always very willing to help you with it.”
McCollom said part of her reason for retiring is her husband, George, was diagnosed with cancer in December.
“I already thought I was going to (retire) because he has been retired a few years and wanted me to,” she said. “It’s just time. He’s cancer-free right now. He’s still taking the cancer drug, but he’s doing really well.”
During retirement, McCollom said she plans to find time for her hobbies, including stained glass, sewing and painting projects. She and her husband also like to go to University of Kentucky volleyball games.
“I’m sure we’ll find plenty to do,” she said. “I can’t see myself not doing anything, so I’m thinking about what I want to do.”
McCollom said she may not stay away from Crothersville Elementary School too long.
She’s interesting in coming back to help with DIBELS testing, which assesses young children’s literacy. At Crothersville, that’s done three times a year for students in kindergarten through second grade.
“We used to have four people that did it — the two teachers, a Title I teacher and a special ed teacher — but we only have part-time special ed, so we went down to three,” she said. “It really works better with four because you can get it done better.”
Principal Chris Marshall said it will be tough not seeing McCollom every day. He has worked with her for the past eight years.
He said she brought vision, tradition and creativity to the school.
“She’s one of the most compassionate teachers I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “Mrs. McCollum loved her students and held them to the highest expectations.”
Holly Sweany is the school’s other kindergarten teacher, and Marshall said school officials are in the process of hiring McCollom’s replacement. Those are big shoes to fill, he said.
For her replacement, McCollom said her advice is to “love what you do and enjoy it and do the best you can.”
“I just hope that people remember me as being dedicated and kind and loving, but I was firm but loving,” she said. “I didn’t let (students) get away with much, but I loved them, and I hope they knew that.”
Name: Ann McCollom
Residence: New Albany
Education: Knightstown High School (1974); Ball State University (bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a minor in physical education, 1978; master’s degree in early education, 1981)
Occupation: Recently retired after 38 years as a teacher at Crothersville Elementary School (one year in second grade and 37 in kindergarten); she also coached junior high basketball, volleyball and track and field and junior varsity volleyball during her tenure
Family: Husband, George McCollom