When Dan Crofoot recently was shown a letter he wrote to a student in 1989, he said, “It made me realize that what we do goes far beyond the classroom and the playground.”
The former student, now 34, had traveled from Grand Rapids with the cherished letter to see Crofoot and his colleague, Barb Taylor, as the pair of kindergarten teachers served as co-grand marshals for the community’s Fall Harvest Festival parade.
Crofoot and Taylor “are certainly worthy recipients and great representatives of our staff and district,” Superintendent Mike Weiler said. “Both of them are longtime members of our faculty, and like the rest of us, have dedicated themselves to the children of this school and community, and done so with distinction.”
|What They Have Learned
The parade announcer’s quip that everyone in the crowd had been influenced by Taylor and Crofoot — since, if they hadn’t been in their classes, their kids or grandkids probably had — was likely true. Crofoot, who started in 1978, and Taylor have been teaching together in the district for the past 32 years.
“Being chosen as a co-grand marshal of the Fall Festival parade is one of the highlights of my teaching career,” said Crofoot. “I love being part of the Kent City community, have developed relationships and friends with many families, and am now teaching second generations of those families.”
Taylor said she was “very humbled by the honor.”
“It takes many teachers, volunteers and family to nurture a child,” she said. “The school is like the front porch of the community. I feel it is important to for teachers to be involved and visible.”
At the parade, the pair were greeted by former students and parents as well as business and community leaders. Later, they said they were awed by the attention.
“There was so much joy and excitement,” Crofoot said. “They were jumping up and down, and not just for the candy.
“We don’t do this for the accolades, but it was special to receive them in this way on this day.”
Changes Through the Years
While the district now has four kindergarten classrooms, when Crofoot and Taylor began there were only two. Kindergarteners then attended only half days so the teachers had two sets of students each day. As state standards changed, so did their workload.
Today, students attend kindergarten all day, every day. There was a time, recalled Taylor, that there were all-day alternating day schedules. “Things would get confusing,” she said, “and on more than one occasion, a student came on the wrong day.”
In September of 2001 — before the state mandated all schools to do the same — everyday kindergarten was implemented in the district.
While both teachers say that changing state mandates in terms of curriculum has been the most challenging part of their long careers in education, they said the change to all-day kindergarten suited them — and their students.
“As the academic requirements were ramping up, the fun part of kindergarten was getting squeezed out,” Crofoot said. “This gave us the flexibility to put the fun stuff back in.”
Kindergarten fun includes events such as Mickey Mouse’s birthday party, gingerbread house-making with a parent or grandparent in the classroom, and Native American powwow day.
“One of best things about being a kindergarten teacher is you can do crazy things and get away with it,” Taylor said.
Added Crofoot: “Like dressing up like Mickey Mouse.”
The pair found a way to have a little extra classroom fun with the parade honor. In case some of their students weren’t able to attend or didn’t know what a grand marshal is, they created a “parade float” using a supply cart, made a sign and pushed each other down the school hallway. The riding teacher tossed candy to kindergarteners who lined the hallway parade route.
After three decades of sharing a career and classrooms with adjoining doors, Taylor and Crofoot have found a family-like connection not only with the community, but also with each other.
While they didn’t know each other as children, Crofoot does recall playing in the sandbox with Taylor’s husband. He has also had two of the couple’s children as students.
“We support each other in so many ways,” he said. “Barb was the first one I called when I was caring for my mother in hospice. She drove me to my cancer surgery. She is like a sister to me.”
Said Taylor, blinking back tears: “That’s what friends do; we are family. Sometimes when he wasn’t here, I would think to myself, ‘What should I do next?’ I don’t know what to do without Dan.”
Their entwined lives have caused a bit of confusion.
“Sometimes I am in a store and see a student and they ask, ‘Where is Mr. Crofoot?’ They think we come together,” Taylor said, laughing.
And of course they think alike when it comes to the most gratifying part of their chosen careers.
“Watching children grow and develop and being a part of that ‘wow’ moment when a child understands a new conceptor realizes that he/she can do something new,” Crofoot said.
“Seeing that moment when they ‘get it’ is the best,” Taylor said.