Friday was a day to say goodbye for the summer for the students and staff in the Sedalia School District 200.
With the final bell Friday afternoon, some students and staff may leave the district for one reason or another, but for one very dedicated teacher, the close of school marks the end of 40 years of helping multiple generations feel more positive about themselves and their place in the world.
Theresa Eads is retiring from a job and a school district that she refers to lovingly as “home.”
“I have had the most wonderful job that anyone could ever ask for,” Eads said last week. “No matter what I have tried to do in my career, it has always been about the kids, they have always been first and foremost in my mind.
“I spent over 19 years at Heber Hunt (Elementary) and it is like a home to me,” Eads said, “Actually Skyline (Elementary), where I will retire from and the entire district, are my home, I don’t have any regrets other than saying goodbye.”
Eads began her career in the district in 1974 after receiving her associate of arts degree in music from State Fair Community College.
“I started out as an aide to help with the transition when they closed Hubbard school,” Eads said. “I worked at a number of different schools in the district in a number of different positions.
“The first year, I would spend one day at Jefferson Elementary and then one day at Sacred Heart where I taught music,” she added. “I went back and forth between the two schools doing whatever they needed me to.”
From 1974 to 1985, Eads worked at Hubbard, Jefferson, Washington, and Heber Hunt elementaries in addition to a position at Sedalia Middle School.
Eads worked primarily as an aide in the Title I Math and English programs before she returned to school to complete her bachelor of education degree from Central Missouri State University.
“From 1987 to 1992 I was a second grade teacher at Heber Hunt and that was such a good experience for me,” Eads commented. “I remember my first few days and weeks there — I worked really hard each night and thought I had everything planned for my students but by 10 in the morning they had everything done and I thought to myself, ‘now what do I do?’”
Eads and Julie Mills team-taught a second grade class for students who were a year or more behind in their learning skills. Mills taught the math and science portions of the class while Eads focused on language arts skills and history.
“We had 20 students in the class and their work was on a first-grade level when they came to us,” Eads said. “By the end of the year, 14 of the 20 were ready to move on to third grade.
“They had gained two years of learning in that one year,” she recalled fondly. “It was very challenging for both the students and us, but I loved every minute of it and I loved each one of them.”
Eads said she always knew she wanted to teach second grade ever since she was a child herself.
The advice of a trusted friend and co-worker and a tragic accident changed all of that.
“Jinx Moore was the principal at Heber Hunt and she always said to me that she thought I would make a great counselor,” Eads said. “I had given it some thought but it wasn’t until 1989 and a boating accident that nearly took my life did I make the decision to go back to school to become a counselor.”
It was April 22 and Eads, her husband and daughters were boating on the Lake of the Ozarks. The family was enjoying their afternoon and were traveling across the cold, spring water when the steering cable on the boat snapped, throwing the family into the water.
“All I could remember was holding onto Jessica and the zillions of bubbles all around us as we were struggling in 80 feet of water,” Eads recalled. “I was in shock but Richard got us back to the boat, which was sinking by that time.
“Two other boaters saw we were in trouble and came from a distance to help us,” she added. “It was because of them and my husband and the fact we were all wearing life-jackets that we are here today.”
Eads suffered a dislocated arm and her right leg was badly cut by the boat’s propeller. She had six weeks of physical therapy but only took off one week of work.
“I wanted and needed to be back with my kids,” Eads said. “I knew I needed some counseling but we couldn’t afford that so I went to a group counseling class and that made me realize that here was an opportunity to help others and give back to students in a way I couldn’t before.”
Eads added that the accident changed her life tremendously in many ways and that as a counselor she tells every group she works with to never get in a boat without a life-jacket and to never get in a car with someone who has been drinking.
Eads began her work as a counselor in the Sedalia School District in 1992 after receiving her master’s in counseling at CMSU, obtaining her degree by taking night classes and summer courses.
“For the first two years I split my time as a counselor between Heber Hunt and Skyline, I would spend three days at Skyline and two days at Heber Hunt,” Eads said. “I had over 1,000 students between the two schools and I found that a lot of my time was spent just putting out fires; I didn’t have a lot of time to work with my students in groups.”
In 1995, she became the full-time counselor at Heber Hunt, staying there for 11 years before moving to Skyline.
During her time at both schools, Eads has been instrumental in establishing a number of programs for her students.
Among those programs are the Safety Patrol and student support groups for children whose parents are deployed or are from single parent households.
She has also coordinated the student support team and the buddy bag program, countless food drives, shoe drives, parenting fairs, and penny wars to help meet student needs.
Eads also coordinated the district’s first and only elementary Pow Wow for all second grade students and was able to bring a group of 46 fifth graders from Jefferson School to Jefferson City in 1976 to see the Freedom Train.
One of the students who took the Freedom Train Ride is Sedalia 200 Board of Education member David Wolf.
“David and I were talking about the trip at the retirement reception,” Eads said. “It just goes to show how things really do come full circle.”
Eads has also been a member of a number of professional organizations including serving as the president of the Sedalia Community Educators Association for three years and being named the Missouri State Teacher’s Association Central Region President of the Year and the 2000 Sedalia 200 Educator of the Year.
No matter how many awards and recognitions she may have received, for Eads it has always been about her students.
“Oh, the stories I could tell,” Eads said with a smile. “I can’t tell you the number of zippers I have had to fix or the number of shoe laces I have tied. “I tell them they have a flat tire and they need to come over to me so I can tie their shoe and fix them.
“I think they untie them on purpose,” she said knowingly. “It makes them feel needed when you pay attention to them.”
Eads said her future includes spending time with her 80-year-old parents, her husband and their daughters and four grandchildren.
“I think we want to travel, maybe not a lot but it will be nice to be able to take off without a destination and see where the road takes us,” Eads said. “There are still a lot of boat trips and fishing we want to do.”
Eads said she had no regrets about her time in education, only that she wished she could have worked in the district longer.
“There have been so many people I have worked with who have been so very kind and good to me and I know I won’t be able to ever forget them,” Eads said thoughtfully. “And I will never forget my kids; a lot of nights I have a tough time going to sleep because I am thinking about them so much.
“All they ever want is for someone to take a little extra minute to let them know that you do care about them, and respect them, and keep them safe and let them know they are needed,” she added. “I always want them to know that I will always care about them and their little hearts.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484