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La Jolla Country Day ‘lifers’ reunite with kindergarten teacher

BY EMILY DERUY

Contributor

A cluster of high school seniors perches awkwardly on tiny chairs made for more pint-sized pupils in the kindergarten building of La Jolla Country Day School. It’s a Thursday afternoon and the “lifers,” as they are known around campus, have gathered for a reunion with their former kindergarten teacher, Terri Zimmerman.

Twenty-five of the 103 graduating seniors have been at Country Day for the last 13 years. Some of them have been there since nursery school.

“Oh my God, how weird!” they exclaim as they trickle into the classroom and find video of themselves decked out in green for the leprechaun hunt playing on the television. Zimmerman greets them by name, with hugs and questions that reveal she hasn’t forgotten her former students.

“You can still see the same faces staring back at you now,” she said. She has been an instructor for 30 years altogether, 23 at Country Day. After teaching pre-kindergarten for a decade, she switched to kindergarten, which she has been teaching ever since.

“It’s bizarre,” she said. “The first pre-K class I taught ... those kids are 28 now. It’s a lot of years.”

Head of School Christopher Schuck agreed.

“From the teaching end, it’s extraordinary. You see these 4- and 5-year olds, watch them grow up. You see the adults they’re becoming.”

Country Day prides itself on creating an atmosphere that compels students to remain at the school through graduation and to come back as alumni.

“There are former students on staff here. It’s really kind of neat,” Schuck noted.

This year’s lifers have obviously grown up in a tight-knit community, maintaining friendships begun as wide-eyed kindergartners just embarking on their

education. Now they’re preparing to leave it all behind as they head off to universities all over the country.

“It will be different,” Cheyenne Giesecke said. “I’ve never experienced changing schools and friends, but Country Day made me appreciate the close-knit environment, and I knew I wanted that in college.”

She’ll continue her volleyball career — The Country Day team won this year’s state championships — at Texas Christian University in the fall, where she plans to major in communications.

Daniel Stein, who will study political science at Yale in the fall, says he’ll also remember his time at the school fondly, but thinks it’s time to move on.

“We’ve done a lot. We gave what we had to Country Day in sports, in clubs, in community service. It’s time to see what else is out there.”

The others nod in agreement, and talk turns to favorite memories. Visiting Elvis, Zimmerman’s horse, comes up as one of the best, as does the teacher herself.

“I remember Ms. Z the most, and how much fun she made it. She really taught us how to bring people together. We’re all still friends as seniors. She created that,” Cheyenne said.