Two weeks from now, Julia Jung will stack the wooden blocks, push in the red plastic chairs, hug the last child and finally, after 21 years, leave kindergarten.
The veteran Oakhill Elementary School teacher is retiring this June, and she is in a happy, unhappy haze of anticipation.
"This is my swan song," she says, and tears well in her blue eyes. "After you've been someplace this long, you cannot walk out and be really happy."
Through a kaleidoscope of emotion, Jung is leaving a world of jump ropes and sand buckets, teddy bears and globes -- and children to whom "everything is wonderful, everything is fun," she says.
But it is the 1,200 children who have passed through her doors that Jung will miss the most when she retires to spend time with her grandchildren. "From the time I can remember, I wanted to teach kindergarten," she says.
She did, first in North Carolina and elsewhere for nine years before taking the job at Oakhill the year the school opened.
She had resolved to retire as soon as she taught the child of one of her students. But that happened several years ago, and still she stayed, introducing youngsters to the world of school.
It was a simple world. "A mother cat has a baby kitten," explains a poster about animal families. "A mother dog has a baby puppy. A mother horse has a baby colt."
To some, stultifying. To Jung, life itself.
"This has been my life 10 months of the year. Oakhill is it," she says.
Almost anywhere she goes now, she sees someone she's
taught. Just this week, a former student heard she was retiring and stopped in to say goodbye.
"It's all the same," said Chrisanna Wyatt, looking over the "water table" where she once floated toys in the soap bubbles.
Jung likes that. "They always say, 'It's just like I remember it!' " she says, glancing around the room.
The play table is in the same spot it's been for more than two decades. Same for the paint easel. With the exception of a few chairs and a doll-sized bear house Jung had a friend make for the room, everything looks pretty much the same.
But, finally, the teacher is ready to take some time for herself.
"It takes a lot of patience to teach kindergartners," she says. "It takes imagination. From the moment you walk in the door, you are theirs."
All teachers are child-oriented, but Jung especially, says Principal Lewis Frey. "She's more like a mother hen to them. It's their first experience with school, and she makes sure it's wonderful."
Jung used the miniature bear house to teach "visual memory". Each day, she adds something to the house, or changes something. The children, at the end of the day, must guess what is different. Learning to notice detail becomes a game.
Another favorite that former students recall is Magic Words. Said Wyatt, now 19, "We had these magic words [on cards] that had some lesson on them, and we'd drill them, and then she would hide them around the room."
Students who found the words got to keep them, and those with the most words were allowed to be a teacher's helper the next day. Even after the children go on to first and second grade, they still play Magic Words at home, parents have told Jung.
She settles in the rocking chair where for many years she has read the same books to eager children.
"I've tried to make the year something good they can remember," she says. "I hope I have."