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SC News

SC Kindergarten Legend Has Been Teaching for Over 40 Years

FILE - Child in kindergarten
Lucélia Ribeiro
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Flickr
File photo

FORT MILL, S.C. (AP) — If the old book is true, if all one really needs to know is learned in kindergarten, then Gloria Gainey celebrated more than a birthday recently. She celebrated generations of Fort Mill children turning adults, who know plenty due to her.

Gainey is a kindergarten assistant at Fort Mill Elementary School. She turned 80 on Sept. 8. She started her role as a kindergarten teacher back in 1975.

"I just love it," she said. "I love 5-year-olds and everything. I enjoy doing the work. It's just a fun job. I've always felt like Fort Mill was my school family."

It's a family she watches grow each year. Some 30 years ago a boy had Cindy Epps as his kindergarten teacher. Gainey was the assistant. That boy, Jad Griffin, is now principal at Fort Mill Elementary.

"She truly loves what she does every day," Griffin said. "She's not in it for the recognition nor does she want to be the center of attention. She is here for the students and Fort Mill Elementary School is a family to her."

It's obvious the love between Gainey and students is mutual, Griffin said. She's quick with a hug, or a rule reminder when needed. She knows those first-day jitters, both for new kindergartners and their parents. She connects with students, often over her love of Snoopy. All while children matriculate grades, and she remains right there in kindergarten for the next group.

"This has allowed her to impact countless lives of students, teachers and staff where she has worked," Griffin said. "She is a legend in the Fort Mill School District for her longevity and her love of students. She works tirelessly and rarely misses a day because she knows how important it is for her to be there for her students."

PARENT TEACHER OPPORTUNITY

Gainey came to Fort Mill from Lancaster in 1965. Her husband had a job transfer through the Springs company. Gainey volunteered and worked as a substitute teacher while her daughter was at the old Carothers School. There wasn't kindergarten at the time, though there were some private kindergartens.

"Fort Mill wasn't as big as it is now," Gainey said.

Hiring then wasn't what it is now either, she said. Kindergarten started as Fort Mill Primary School opened, and leaders there asked Gainey if she would help in a classroom since she was already often in the schools.

"I just sort of became part of the school," Gainey said. "The job was more or less handed to me."

Kindergarten then was more like preschool today. It was a half day program. Curriculum was simpler.

"Children have to work a little bit harder now," Gainey said.

In 1975 Gainey moved into the brick house where she still lives. It was a house in the country. Now as many Fort Mill residents live west of Gainey as they do east. Her home isn't in the country anymore.

"It seems like everybody knew everybody just a little better," Gainey recalls. "We were a smaller community."

LONG KINDERGARTEN CAREER

Gainey was there when the former Fort Mill Primary School, now part of the Fort Mill High School complex, opened. She moved to the current Fort Mill Elementary School when it opened. Her 46-year career to date includes more milestones than the most ambitious kindergartner could count.

Consider:

— Gainey's career in Fort Mill schools predates any existing school in the district.

— On Sept. 7 the district recognized nine employees with diamond pins for 25 years of service in Fort Mill schools. Those employees still trail Gainey's tenure by more than two decades.

— Gainey was an assistant kindergarten teacher for almost 20 years when Fort Mill had only one primary or elementary school. The district now has 11 elementary schools with roughly 1,200 kindergarten students.

— A student in Gainey's first kindergarten class in 1975 would be AARP card eligible today.

Superintendent Chuck Epps calls Gainey a true Fort Mill legend.

"In her role within the district, she has touched the lives of thousands of students, some of whom are now serving this district as teachers and administrators," Epps said. "She is the embodiment of the kind, caring and dedicated educator that we all strive to be."

A CONSTANT TEACHER

Gainey could look back with the best of them, but instead she looks forward. Forward to a new school year, new students, new memories. Despite her long career she still gets excited to help the youngest students.

Susan Sims teaches kindergarten with Gainey now. This year is the third together for the pair.

"She is a kind-hearted, genuine person to work with," Sims said. "She loves her job and especially loves the kids. Mrs. Gainey is very dependable and will do anything for anyone."

Sims is the eighth kindergarten teacher Gainey worked alongside. Gainey spent 19 years with Epps, her longest pairing. While many colleagues have come and gone, Gainey appreciates time spent with each. As she does with each new class of kindergarten students she gets.

Along with working for a former student, Gainey said it's common in recent years to teach a child whose parent had Gainey as a teacher, too. There are a couple of students in her class this year who fit that description. Then there are trips to the grocery store, to dinner, to just about anywhere else she goes in town.

"Everywhere I go now, I've got a student or somebody that I had in kindergarten," Gainey said.

Fort Mill has grown tremendously since Gainey arrived. So have many, many students she taught.

"As time goes on, things change," Gainey said.

Except, it seems, for her.

"Well, I guess so," she said.