Donna de Simone, second grade teacher at Breckinridge Elementary, retires this summer after 43 years teaching at the school. [PHOTO: Matt de Simone]By Matt de Simone
Breckinridge Elementary School will say goodbye to a familiar face at the end of the school year—my mother.
Donna de Simone, a second grade teacher who spent her entire career at Breckinridge, will retire this summer after 43 years of educating students in Botetourt County.
de Simone first arrived at Breckinridge in 1978. That year, the school’s class of fifth graders was larger in students than usual. Principal Weldon Martin brought de Simone into the fold to help space out the students.
The following school year, Martin asked de Simone if she wanted to teach second grade. She’s taught inside of the same classroom since 1979.
“I always said when I start teaching the grandchildren of my former students that it was time to retire,” de Simone said in a recent interview before we sat down for a Sunday dinner. She taught her first “third-generation” student last year.
In her 43 years at Breckinridge, around 860 students entered her classroom over 7,750+ days of school. Out of those students, 39 were children (or grandchildren) of students de Simone previously educated. Two current faculty members (and one former) teaching at Breckinridge were students of de Simone’s in the second grade.
“I think about how many years I have gone to school in the fall,” de Simone continued. “For 60 years, I was in school somewhere every fall. It’s going to be quite a change.”
Over the years, de Simone worked on the Southwestern Virginia Clinical Faculty Consortium—a mentorship program that developed a way for current teachers to help first-year teachers transition into the new job. She continued as the Lead Clinical Faculty Division Coordinator from 2005-2012.
She acted as “lead teacher” for Breckinridge for several years, helping out the principal and other staff members who needed additional assistance.
Developing county “pacing guides” was another one of de Simone’s favorite accomplishments. She worked with other second grade teachers in Botetourt County, creating plans that ensured teachers would get through all of the second grade curricula inside a schoolyear.
de Simone’s greatest joy was teaching her second graders reading skills. She’s always taken pride in witnessing new students enter her classroom, learning to read and then leaving her class reading to learn.
“I love watching the excitement of kids leaving picture books and moving into chapter books,” de Simone said. “Having a student with six chapter books laid out across their desk—they just don’t know which one to pick first. They just get so excited.”
Some teachers spend a few years in one grade and then take the opportunity to teach another. de Simone arrived as a new second grade teacher in 1979 and never left.
“The age of seven and eight is a magic age,” de Simone explained. “They’re old enough to have a conversation. They enjoy learning and understand why they’re in school. You can laugh together. It’s just wonderful. I never, for one minute, wanted to leave teaching the second grade.”
She enjoyed taking her students on “history hunts” around Fincastle. She enjoyed field trips to Natural Bridge, the Peaks of Otter, and the Martinsville Science Museum. When it snowed in the winter, de Simone always took her kids out in the snow and took a class picture.
de Simone is also a member of the esteemed “Breckinridge Belles”—a group of teachers who performed songs for staff members celebrating retirement and other milestones. The much-lauded group of educators/singers have performed in different iterations over the years but don’t have a proper Wikipedia page documenting their most significant achievements. Later this week, at de Simone’s retirement dinner, members of the original “Belles” will return for another performance. Naturally, the event is “sold out.” Sorry, fans.
de Simone will be missed by many at Breckinridge and vice versa. She’s become a welcome institution and a contributor to making Botetourt County Public Schools a wonderful place to work and learn.
“Working in a small community and a small school, having this many parents who have their children attend Breckinridge says a lot about the school,” de Simone said. “That’s saying a lot about Breckinridge. To me, it’s all about Breckinridge.”
On Tuesday, May 25, Breckinridge Elementary will hold a “drive-thru” farewell to Mrs. de Simone from 5:30-6:30 P.M. All former students and parents who wish to say “goodbye” to Mrs. de Simone are welcome to attend the event.
I’ll be there. One of the main reasons I took the job as Editor of The Fincastle Herald was writing this article. I love my mother very much. Not a lot of children get the benefits from having an educator for “Mom.” She’s the best. I am so proud to call Donna de Simone my mother, and there are so many others who are pleased to call her their teacher and friend. Best of luck, Momma.
I love you.
Matt de Simone
Editor, Fincastle Herald