No, Brayden Brown doesn’t remember much about his kindergarten days 12 years ago, but the “cool” teacher with the great big smile, her, he’ll never forget.
Mrs. McKeough brought out the best in her kids by opening their hungry minds to a world of learning.
“We had this project,” Brown recalled of his K-days with “Mrs. McQ.” “We watched as our caterpillars turned into butterflies.”
Brown was part of Kim McKeough’s first class of full-day kindergarteners at Lakeland Hills Elementary when the school officially opened in 2006. Last Sunday, he was among 15 of the 22 original kindergarteners who’d gathered at Sunset Park as high school seniors dressed in Class of ’19 caps and gowns to spring a surprise reunion on an unsuspecting McKeough.
Twelve of the 15 who came to the reunion graduate from Auburn Riverside High School next month, the other three from nearby schools.
“We were her first group,” said Brown, “and now we’re all heading off.”
McKeough, who had just flown home after a weekend at Lake Tahoe, was invited to attend a “client-teacher appreciation event” at the park.
As the evening sun dipped over the horizon, family and friends led McKeough up a park walkway to where her alumni were hiding behind a burly tree. Once into the clear, she turned to see familiar faces as the group shouted “surprise!” A shocked and overwhelmed McKeough gaped and momentarily covered her mouth before embracing the students.
“I’m incredibly surprised,” McKeough said. “I love these children. … They are a special group of kids.”
“This is really awesome,” said student Linnea Thorpe.
Jamie Penrod, whose son Christopher was in McKeough’s first class, organized the reunion as a gesture of thanks and appreciation to a warm-hearted woman and her life’s work with kids. McKeough, who has taught for 30 years, still teaches kindergarteners at the school today.
“She said this class holds a special place in her heart,” Penrod said. “She always felt a deep connection with these kids. She’s just a loving, caring person. She gives everything she’s got. She’s just an amazing teacher.”
McKeough left an impression on her students with her fun, thoughtful, imaginative approach to teaching.
“The reason we’re here is because of our teacher,” Tommy Nelson said. “It’s hard to forget her. She was a mentor to all of us – that’s the biggest thing.”
Christian Calloway chimed in: “I have good memories. We did a lot of fun things, like a butterfly project. I remember she was a great teacher.”
Back then, McKeough served many roles and performed many duties.
“Her thing was she was a dental assistant,” Katie Carstens said. “She would smile but she also would pull out our teeth if we needed help. (At that age) we were all losing our (baby) teeth.”
Many of McKeough’s students stayed together throughout the years, attending the same schools. Others did not, and some managed to keep in touch and reunite at Auburn Riverside.
Carstens and Katelyn Andersen have been best friends since meeting in McKeough’s first class as kindergarteners. They have been classmates ever since. They graduate from Auburn Riverside next month.
“We’re graduating together, which is pretty crazy,” said Carstens, who will attend Washington State University next fall.
“It’s cool getting us all back together,” said Andersen, who will attend the University of Portland School of Nursing.
McKeough has had a great influence on Reis MacNeill, who makes it a point to visit her at school from time to time.
“She taught me how to be a good person, a work ethic and all that kind of stuff,” MacNeill said. “She left a lasting impact on my life today.”
McKeough has remained supportive of her former students over the years.
“I just kept tabs on them,” she said. “I know what they are doing. I go to their shows, their plays, their sporting events.”
She plans to attend their graduation ceremony next month, but she needs a ticket.
That connection between teacher and students has come full circle. In keeping with tradition, McKeough has distributed caterpillars to her first class of kids this spring. The group intends to return to its former elementary school with the butterflies and set them free next month.
Time for moving on.