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‘Invite all the children into your heart’: Kindergarten teacher’s aide Cindy Neal retires after 42 years

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Cindy Neal retiring kindergarten teacher's assistant at the Nokesville School

Cindy Neal with some of her kindergarten students at The Nokesville School. Neal, has been a teaching assistant for 42 years and is retiring at the end of this school year.

After spending 42 years as a Nokesville kindergarten teaching assistant, Cindy Neal will retire at the end of the school year. But she says her heart will always be in the classroom.

Neal spent 35 years teaching at the original Nokesville Elementary School and then for the last seven years at its successor, The Nokesville School. The latter opened in 2014 and has an enrollment of about 1,060 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Neal moved to Nokesville in 1973. In 1980, she and her husband built their home in Nokesville where they raised their children, all of whom went to Nokesville schools.

Neal’s family has been asking her to retire for the last few years, but she wasn’t ready until now, she said. Neal said that she didn’t want to retire last year, which was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic, because she didn’t want to let down The Nokesville School’s kindergarten team.  

Neal, 75, said this school year, which began all online and then switched to a “hybrid model,” with some students coming to school two days a week and others learning from home, “has been rather challenging.”

“I’ve been kind of like a tech person. It was challenging for me in my age bracket but I’ve had a lot of help and I’ve learned a lot,” Neal said, adding: “I think that our school has done such an excellent job teaching the children. It has not been easy, but the children have learned a lot both in school and virtually.”

Neal said that teaching kindergarten has been her life’s work and that her goal was to help children want to learn, and especially to encourage them to be happy while learning. She said her favorite thing about teaching has been “helping the children, nourishing them and watching them learn.” 

Neal said she has taught at least two generations of children in Nokesville and “pretty soon it would be the third for crying out loud!” 

Every fall, Neal said she looked forward to school starting and said she thinks of the children she taught over the years as an extension of her own family.

Eric Worcester, principal of The Nokesville School, said Neal is treasure in the Nokesville community.

“It was awesome to work with her for the last 10 years,” he said, adding: “Whenever I run into anyone who went to Nokesville Elementary who is now in their twenties and thirties and forties, I’ll bring up Mrs. Neal and they always remember her and say, ‘She was great, I loved her!’”

Neal said she is looking forward to being able to move closer to her children after she retires.  She said she and her husband may move to a retirement community where they can do things with other couples their age.

Neal said she hopes the parents of her students know that she loved teaching their children.  She offered advice to younger teachers who want to make a long career of teaching like she did: “Keep your eyes and ears open and invite all the children into your heart.”

Reach Cher Muzyk at cmuzyk@gmail.com

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