Last Thursday marked the first day of school for the 2014-15 school year in the Sedalia School District 200. The seventh graders were starting the year in a different building, but for one Smith-Cotton Junior High teacher, it wasn’t anything new — Sara Harvilla was celebrating her 50th first day of school.
Starting with her first day of kindergarten at Washington Elementary in 1965, Harvilla has had 50 first days of school, including seven years teaching in Bunceton, one year teaching Intro to College Writing at Central Missouri State University, 19 years at Sedalia Middle School and six years at SCJH. The end of the school year will be year 33 as a teacher, and it will be her last at SCJH, as she plans to retire this year.
“My husband is disabled and he still gets around fairly well, and I want to spend some time with him before he’s no longer able to do everything he wants to do,” Harvilla said. “I think about this is my last first day, everything is going to be the last time I do this. I’m going to be sad, I’m going to miss it. I may do some subbing, but it won’t be the same. But I’m also looking forward to spending time with my husband, my son will have graduated. And I’m looking forward to seeing my daughter more, who lives in Colorado.”
She started her career in Bunceton as an English teacher straight out of college.
“There I was the full English department, seventh through 12. I taught everything,” she said. “I taught seventh and eighth grade in the same room for awhile, and I didn’t have enough textbooks for everyone. I taught the core classes, and I also directed the plays, was the senior class sponsor. I made $9,225 the first year I taught. Even then that was not a lot of money.”
Harvilla’s seen plenty of changes in education, especially with technology, and she said she’s learned to be patient with new practices in the classroom.
“(In Bunceton), there were a couple of computers in the building, a VCR, a TV and a copier. Those were the big technological things,” she said. “Now we have my computer, computer labs, the projector, I have a document camera. I can show them how I would mark the paper, with the worksheet they have in their hands and hopefully that will help them. I’m looking forward to that.
“I heard a famous educator say it takes a lot longer to integrate something into your classroom than you might think. Integrating new ideas can take a long time so don’t get frustrated. I try to remember that it can take a long time to get something integrated and get it started.”
During her time as an English teacher Harvilla has also had other responsibilities, such as directing plays, being a class sponsor, being a team leader, and most recently she has become the Student Council co-sponsor. For Harvilla, she loves it all.
“I like the kids and I love the subject matter. I really love planning units and lessons, finding new things to do and doing things in a different way,” she said. “I’m student council co-sponsor which is a lot of responsibility, and this sounds odd, but I love organizing things, planning pep assemblies. I’ve tried to make them more entertaining than they were before. I also enjoy the teachers and administrators I work with.”
Throughout her almost 33 years of teaching, she’s learned a thing or two, specifically being prepared for anything that might happen during the course of the school day.
“I have learned you definitely need to be on your toes with seventh and eighth graders,” she said. “You have to be proactive in terms of behavior. So many things have changed, I’ve learned I need to be prepared for just about anything with seventh and eighth graders.”
Once she returned to Sedalia 200 25 years ago, she was returning home to the district she graduated from. She was part of the first class to attend the junior high when it first opened, and she later taught there when it became the middle school. And graduating from Smith-Cotton is a family tradition — her mom, aunt, uncle, brothers and sisters graduated from S-C, as well as her daughter, and her son is currently a senior.
“I’m going to miss the kids, and the friends I work with. I’ll tell you what I won’t miss, grading papers — no one grades more papers than English teachers,” Harvilla said with a laugh.
“I think I’ll miss the building. When I’m in this building I look over at that door that goes into the balcony. I was a nun in ‘The Sound of Music’ when I was in high school and we walked down the stairs singing Latin six-part harmony in outfits like we were nuns holding lit candles. I think about that and the fun I’ve had as a student here and as a teacher here. I will miss that and think about that a lot.”