After more than three decades – and countless students passing through her classes – Sylvia Gilham officially retired at the end of the school year. While she spent the majority of her years with the Escalon Unified School District at the Farmington Elementary campus, she also taught at Dent Elementary.
“I think she is a living treasure,” noted co-worker Dede Platz, a Speech-Language Pathologist. “She truly lives up to the saying ‘everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten’ with Mrs. Gilham because of her amazing ability to teach and her TLC for each of her students.”
Co-workers, friends, family and many former students gathered for a gala retirement party near the end of the school year and The Times also posed a few questions to the longtime educator, gaining some insight into her passion for teaching and dedication to her students.
Why did you decide to go into teaching?
I graduated with a B.A. in English from U.C. Davis and it seemed like the logical thing to do to get a Single Subject credential in English. When I started substitute teaching, I fell in love with the younger students, and applied for a multiple subjects credential. I jumped for joy when Jake Klessens hired me to teach Kindergarten at Farmington in late August of 1984! I was hired on my brother Walt’s birthday, Aug. 29.
With so many years in the district, you probably taught the children of former students – what was that like for you?
That has been so very special – to teach former students’ children. I taught Justin Bates’ daughter, Hailey, my last year at Farmington. And this year, I taught Savannah Schurkamp in our TK class at Dent. Her dad, Max, was in my first class, and she in my last class. It was very special to come full circle in my career with that. I also got to teach with a former student this year, Jessica Towner.
You spent time at both Farmington and Dent, which made each campus special to you?
Farmington was like a second home to me, spending 30 years teaching there. The small school atmosphere, the great community, and wonderful friends and connections made will be forever held dear in my heart. Dent is special, too. The staff has been so welcoming and friendly, and I truly appreciate that. I’ve taught some mighty special students, and met some wonderful families my two years at Dent, as well.
What did you enjoy most about your career?
Making heartfelt connections with students and families I’m still friends with 30 years later! It’s a real joy to see former students all grown up, contributing positively to society, and being successful in their endeavors. I love being invited to their weddings, baby baptisms, and graduations. It’s special when they want their old Kindergarten teacher at these events!
What are your plans for retirement?
I have big plans to renovate each room of our house, take care of our yard and garden, get organized, and have time to read the paper daily instead of just stacking them on the table for the weekend! I also will be able to go out to lunch with friends on a school day, and plan to get lots of swimming and bicycling in as well. Yippee for retirement, but grateful for all the years I taught for Escalon Unified.