EAST CHAIN - After her first day of kindergarten, Roxanne Mennenga told her father she wanted to be a teacher.
She has never veered from that dream.
Now, Mennenga is preparing to retire after more than 40 years as an elementary teacher at Granada-Huntley-East Chain Schools.
Roxanne Mennenga spends time with kindergarten students this week at Granada-Huntley-East Chain Schools.
"I love what I do," she said. "I am so blessed."
On a typical morning, Mennenga sits behind her desk, directing kindergarten students as they come to class. She also accepts hugs from former students just dropping in to say good morning. She offers words of encouragement to students who come to tell her they are having a bad day.
She knows the students at her school and most of their parents. A quarter to a third of her current students are children of former students.
"This is a wonderful place for children," she said. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe that. We take care of each other."
Each student is treated with the same respect, and each one gives it to Mennenga in return.
She grew up in Winnebago and, after college, began subbing at GHEC. Soon she was offered a full-time job, and moved to Huntley, where the school was located at the time.
The 2012 GHEC teacher of the year has faithfully served the district ever since. She has not missed a fall start of school since 1954.
As she prepares for retirement, Mennenga has not lost the love of teaching that brought her to the profession.
"The only time I don't want to come to school is when there is a blizzard," she said.
She has taught all the elementary grades throughout her career, and says her favorite grade is the one she is teaching at the time.
"I consider myself to have one of the best jobs in the world," she said.
Over the years, she has seen changes in her students, mostly stemming from a change in families.
"Families are busier," she said. "They all still want the best for their student, but they might not be there to give it to them."
Mennenga is also a parent educator at GHEC and Blue Earth Area, a job she plans to continue after retirement.
There are three things she tells parents they can do to ensure success of their student.
First, read to them.
"Read to your children all the way through high school," she said, adding that as students get older, parents should ask what they think of the material being read and use it as a jumping off point for discussions.
Which brings her to her second piece of advice.
"Talk to your children," she said. "And I don't mean so they say just yes and no. ... I want kids to answer with what they are feeling and thinking, so when it becomes harder to talk to their parents they have practice doing it."
And lastly, she asks parents to listen to their children, not just to what they are saying, but what they are feeling.
Meal times are a good time to talk, she said, even if you are eating fast food. She recommends doing it at the table and having conversations. She strongly suggests making sure the students speak in complete sentences, a way to teach not only conversation but to give each child a chance to express himself or herself.
Mennenga also has advice for adults:?Never stop learning.
"We expect the students to come in here every day and learn something," she said. "We can't be so set in our ways."