Some say it takes a special person to teach and takes an even more special person to teach kindergarten.
Pam Dunham of Creston has devoted all 36 years of her career to teaching the ripe minds of 5- and 6-year-old kindergarteners and special education students at Creston Community Schools. Now, after nearly four decades, Dunham is making her way back to Kalkaska, Michigan.
Dunham moved to Creston from Michigan in the 1970s to teach special education after disability rights legislation was passed in Iowa. Because of that legislation, special education teachers were allowed to teach in Iowa’s public school system, and Dunham wanted to be one to make a difference.
“It was a way for her to nurture more, and the kids that she had truly were her kids,” said longtime friend and colleague Sharon Snodgrass.
Giving to others
When teaching, Dunham said she was constantly cultivating new hands-on activities for her class. Dunham retired from teaching in 2012, but soon realized she missed creating and serving others.
To fill the void, Dunham joined the Creston Quilters Guild, an organization where individuals create quilts and donate them to individuals or organizations in need.
“I’ve made about 90 quilts and I have maybe three in my home,” said Dunham.
She enjoys giving them away the most to people she is close with as well.
Not only has Dunham given quilts to her family and through the quilt guild, she also donated quilts to the Creston PTO for fundraisers.
Outside the classroom she has helped with RAGBRAI, The Special Arts festival as a planner, served as a Special Olympics coach, and was the Iowa State University Teacher of the Year in 1992.
“She really throws her heart into things,” said Snodgrass. “It doesn’t matter what it is.”
Dunham her first 20 years in teaching to serve the needs of special education students. When it came time for a change, she decided to teach kindergarten.
“The special ed was changing,” said Dunham. “What I really liked doing wasn’t the way they did it anymore.”
After teaching for many years, Dunham accumulated many stories but one stood out the most.
“I had two gerbils for a long time and I thought I lucked out by having two girls. One morning we came into the classroom and saw two babies in the corner of the cage,” said Dunham. “And one student went home and told her parents ‘we have two baby gerbils and they’re both girls.’ And the father asked how she knew that they were both girls and she said ‘because they’re all pink.’”
Literacy was important to Dunham and spent much of her time trying to expose her students to hands-on science and books.
“I had a goal of reading 1,000 books every year,” said Dunham. “The closest I got was 947.”
Inspiration to others
Now retired, Dunham has the opportunity to see past students follow in her footsteps, such as Ericka Abell, a former kindergarten student of Dunham’s, who graduated from Central College in May and will be teaching kindergarten this fall in Creston.
“I have a horrible memory but I remember so much from her class,” said Abell.
Abell talks to Dunham on a regular basis and shares that Dunham will be handing down classroom material to Abell for her first classroom.
Members of the local quilt community are hosting a farewell party 1 to 4 p.m. Monday at the Early Childhood Center gym, 901 N. Elm St.