After six years as a principal and 33 years with Harford County Public Schools, Joppatowne Elementary School Principal Cheryl Steeg bid her final farewell to students on their last day of school Wednesday.
Steeg, who is retiring June 30, presided over her final dismissal shortly before 3:30 p.m. She told the children over the public address system that she hopes they will "work hard each and every day when you come back to school in the fall."
"Have a wonderful summer, everyone," Steeg announced. "I will miss you very much."
The principal, teachers and staff were dressed in green-and-white shirts bearing the school colors as they cheered and waved at the students boarding their buses, plus they used plastic wands and bubble guns to send bubbles over the children's heads.
Wednesday was the last day of school for students throughout Harford County. The 2016-2017 school year begins Aug. 25.
Steeg has spent her entire career in elementary schools as teacher, counselor, assistant principal and principal.
"They usually want to work very hard," she said of the students. "They like to have fun while they're learning, and they still have a good attitude about coming to school every day."
Students' last day
Three Joppatowne students – second-grader Brianna Gonzalez, third-grader Blake Dietz and fourth-grader Sidney Stewart – shared their thoughts on what they have learned the past school year, their plans for the summer and their memories of their principal.
"She's really fun," Blake, 9, said of Steeg.
He said she has developed activities that make learning fun, such as Wacky Wednesday.
"What about Funny Friday?" Brianna, 7, asked him.
Brianna said she enjoys Friday Faces, a video program that includes images of highlights from each week.
Sidney, 10, noted the children gave gifts to Steeg Wednesday, as well as their teachers.
"We only had one day where we gave her gifts, but every day she gives us gifts," he said.
Blake and Brianna talked about tips they have learned in their math classes, to help with skills such as multiplication.
Brianna said the tips are helpful "so we can remember it next year."
Sidney said he and his classmates got an introduction to the American Colonial period in their social studies class as a base for learning more about the period in fifth grade.
He said they learned about "what the colonialists did to help them survive and how they treated others," such as Native Americans and African slaves.
Sidney will have an opportunity to learn about Mexican culture during the summer, as he and his family will travel to Cancun.
Brianna said she is looking forward to visiting her grandmother and other relatives in New York City, where her family lived before moving to Maryland.
Blake said he is looking forward to spending time with his mother and father, as he normally lives with his grandparent.
Bittersweet time for faculty
Tory Reynolds, a first-grade teacher, said the last day of school is a time of mixed emotions for teachers and students.
"We're excited for the students, because they're excited," she said.
Reynolds, and her colleagues Patty Mazza, a fourth-grade teacher, and school counselor Stephanie Bandzwolek, noted teachers worry about their students' welfare over the summer, and the last day can be emotional for older students.
"Some of their friends don't live near them, and they think the relationships they've made here won't continue through the summer," Mazza said.
Bandzwolek said the summer break gives each year a beginning and end for faculty, with "a nice break in between."
"We get to spend time with our families and get to relax a little bit," Reynolds said.
All three faculty members praised Steeg and her leadership style.
"She's been a very solid, steady presence here," Reynolds said. "She's kept us going through a lot of change in curriculum and [teacher] evaluation systems."
Bandzwolek said Steeg is known for being visible throughout the building and interacting with students on a regular basis.
"You'd be hard-pressed to come here and find her in her office," Reynolds added.
Mazza worked with Steeg when she was an assistant principal at George D. Lisby Elementary School at Hillsdale, in Aberdeen.
"She's been [staffers'] biggest fan," Mazza said. "She's been our biggest supporter."
The principal's next steps
Until she leaves, Steeg will work with faculty, staff and her successor to prepare for next year.
She said she does not yet have plans for retirement, but she will start with "just some relaxation for a while, to get back to some exercising, get back on my bicycle, enjoy things a little bit."
Steeg, 55, lives in Norrisville. Her husband, Michael, is retired from HCPS with 37 years under his belt. His final assignment was as the principal of Dublin Elementary School.
They have a 34-year-old son who is a physical education teacher at a private school in Anne Arundel County.
There are about 560 students at Joppatowne, from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, and about 65 faculty and staff.
"It's a great school, and I will miss it very much, but part of me is also very excited to see what the next chapter will bring," she said.
Steeg said she has remained in education because for her, it is "incredible to be working with children and have to an impact on their lives, not just academically, but socially and emotionally."
"Every day we really do work to make a difference in their lives," she said.