The final bell for students June 7 meant the start of endless summer vacations for six retiring Laurel High School educators. Among them, they have more than 100 years of education experience and have each become fixtures in the hallways of the county's oldest high school.
Laurel High's retirees this year are guidance secretary Janet Lamanna, science department chair Martha Bazarko, social studies teachers Lauren Boyd and Kathy Boyer, special education teacher Sharon Mitchell-Boyd, and foreign language teacher Alice Levy.
The departures are bittersweet, but sometimes, you know it's time to retire, Bazarko said.
"I never wanted to burn out, so to say," said Bazarko, of Owings. "I always wanted to leave on a high note, to still enjoy what I was doing. I wanted to be healthy enough to enjoy my happiness."
Bazarko has been at Laurel High for 27 years, and a teacher in Prince George's County for 33.
Levy, too, has been a longtime educator. She's been a Latin teacher at Laurel High for six years, but a teacher for 41 years in Baltimore City, and Howard and Prince George's counties.
"I should have retired long ago," joked Levy, 64, of Columbia. "But I'll miss it. I'll miss it very much."
Lamanna, 56, has been working in education for 30 years, as a bus driver and secretary at several Prince George's schools. She's been at Laurel for 2 1/2 years. Now, she's ready "for a different adventure."
"I got very lucky at Laurel," said Lamanna, of Severn, who will now be working part-time at the Meeting House in Oakland Mills. "I liked communicating with the parents and students."
Lamanna originally studied to be a music teacher, but opted against it when she thought about "how much teachers put up with." As a bus driver, she had students for 20 to 40 minutes a day, rather than the entire day, and she was still interacting daily with the students.
"The biggest thing is that you're carrying someone's precious cargo," she said. "You treat them as your own. You try to give them a good start to their day, start them off right. It was a job that just clicked for me.
"Besides, I loved seeing those beautiful sunrises in the early morning. They were breathtaking."
While Lamanna already has the next chapter of her life outlined, Levy's plan is to "do nothing until I figure out what to do." She's planning on traveling to Europe next spring, but before that, she's traveling with her sister to visit friends this fall, first to Phoenix, then Albuquerque and Reno, and finally back to her hometown of Follansbee, W.Va. She's trying to decide where to live in her retirement, but has a feeling she'll stay in Columbia.
"I think this might be my home," she said. "I'll try to do those things the 'old people' do."
Bazarko is also planning on traveling, and spending as much time with her five grandchildren as possible. She said she'll miss the interaction of the classroom the most; when it comes down to it, she said, she just really loves teaching.
"I love standing in front of the kids, giving them information and seeing a spark," she said. "It's a thrill for the student to get something, and it's a thrill for us to give it to them. My philosophy has always been that learning has to be relevant to the students. They have to know there's a need for learning.
"As a biology teacher, you have to tie in how useful that knowledge is in everyday life. To be an educated consumer, you have to know how your body runs. You have your body for the rest of your life, don't you want to know how it works?"
Levy, too, rose to the challenge of explaining how Latin — a dead language — could still be relevant to her students.
"It helps with your grammar and with your vocabulary," she said.
Ultimately, Bazarko said, knowing she has had a positive impact on her students brings her joy.
"It's really a thrill to know that you have touched someone's life and they remember you," she said, speaking of students who stop by to say hello years after graduating. "For a lot of our kids, teachers are role models. Sometimes, we spend more time with them than their parents do. Maybe, we help to push them in the right direction, encourage them.
"Really, I think teaching is a noble profession."