Room 102 at Crothersville Elementary School has long held a special place in Cassondra Kelly’s heart.
Her kindergarten year was spent there learning from teacher Ann McCollom and her aide, Rosemary Ridge.
Then during her junior and senior years, Kelly was back in the room as a cadet teacher under McCollom.
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Later starting her teaching career, Kelly wound up back at Crothersville Elementary School but taught fifth grade for one year before moving to second grade.
On Friday, just six days before the start of the 2019-20 school year, it all came full circle for Kelly when she accepted Principal Drew Markel’s offer to move to kindergarten.
She was back in Room 102, this time setting up her own classroom. While McCollom retired in 2016 after 38 years of service, she and Kelly have remained friends, and she returned to help Kelly get the room ready.
“My dream was always to teach in this room because I learned from the best,” Kelly said with tears in her eyes. “I feel like after 14 years, I get to live my dream. Even though it has always been teaching, it has always been kindergarten at Crothersville. I don’t want to teach anywhere else. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I just always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher at Crothersville. This is my home. This school has my heart.”
The school experienced a lot of shuffling with the departure of three teachers. Maddie DiBlasi moved from third grade to second grade, Tara Bedwell was hired as a second-grade teacher, Haley Deckert and Sidney Chumbler were hired as third-grade teachers, Olivia Cain moved from fourth grade to fifth grade and Brad Emerson is a new fifth-grade teacher.
The only teachers to remain in the same position as last school year are Ellen Prince in preschool, Holly Sweany in kindergarten, Ashley Spicer and Karra Lucas in first grade and Keeli Bowling in fourth grade.
Kelly said she’s excited about her change because her passion for teaching started when she was a kindergarten cadet teacher in the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 school years.
“From watching Ann, I just knew that I loved this age, and she was a phenomenal teacher, and she taught me a lot,” Kelly said, again getting emotional.
While the first year was mainly observing McCollom and helping her, Kelly spent more time in the room her senior year and was given the opportunity to teach.
“She let me do calendar, she let me do groups, and from that moment on, I knew that teaching was my passion,” Kelly said.
After graduating from Crothersville High School in 2000, she went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a minor in kindergarten from Indiana State University.
She said McCollom encouraged her to get away from the area and go to college.
“Ann obviously knew that I wanted to be a teacher,” Kelly said. “She did so much more than just teach me. She helped me get scholarships that I didn’t even know about. My parents were neither one educated. They didn’t have high school diplomas. I was just going to live at home and go to IUS (Indiana University Southeast), and she said, ‘Absolutely not. You’re going away.’”
McCollom helped Kelly fill out college applications and later regularly sent her care packages while at ISU.
“She doesn’t have any kids, so I’m kind of like her adopted daughter, I guess,” Kelly said. “I’m the only person in my family to go to college and earn a degree. I was always driven myself, but really, Ann pretty much booted me along.”
Kelly graduated from ISU in December 2004 and then spent three months in 2005 covering a maternity leave for a teacher at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School.
In the fall of 2006, she was hired as a fifth-grade teacher at Crothersville. After a year at that level, she switched to second grade.
After Brianna Guinn recently resigned as a kindergarten teacher, Markel called Kelly and offered her the position. She accepted and then had to scramble to get her room ready.
“I think my room is about as ready as it’s going to get,” she said Wednesday. “You should have seen it on Friday. You couldn’t even walk in the hallway with all of the stuff I had to get rid of.”
Fortunately, she had a lot of help from McCollom and kindergarten aide Mary Jo Isenhower.
“I hope to end my career in this room, where it all started,” Kelly said.
DiBlasi also was asked Friday about switching grades. She had spent the past six years teaching third grade.
“A little surprised, but happy about the change. It was good news,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do it. I really enjoyed third. I just wanted to try a different age group. I think going into teaching, you’re kind of always expecting the unexpected. You don’t know what each day is going to bring.”
DiBlasi said she doesn’t expect the adjustment to be as drastic as it is for Kelly.
“I think in terms of student expectations and how independent they are, it will be a little bit different,” she said. “I enjoy teaching reading, so it’s going to be interesting to work with a different age group in terms of reading. It’ll be more focused on phonics.”
As far as the other differences, DiBlasi isn’t sure what to expect quite yet.
“Well, I’m sure I’ll find out,” she said, smiling. “It’s nice, though, because the other second-grade teacher is new, so we’ll both be learning.”