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A 44-Year Hold on Room 13

Schools: Reseda educator is retiring after more than four decades teaching first-graders in the same classroom.


Although much around Reseda has changed since 1958, one thing has remained the same: the teacher in Room 13 at Vanalden Avenue Elementary School.

Since that year, Carolyn Sue Palmer has taught first grade in the same room at Vanalden.

Through more than four decades, hundreds of 6- and 7-year-olds have learned to read, write, add and subtract with her help.

Now, after 44 years of the same grade in the same room at the same school, the 65-year-old teacher is retiring, leaving a legacy of dedication and good memories.

On June 21, Palmer will vacate Room 13, which is filled with art from students and such artists as Andy Warhol and Picasso.

The room is also filled with gifts she been given over the years.

"This school has been great to me,'' said Palmer, who was honored Friday for her service to the school that was just 5 years old when she joined the faculty.

In the early days before the Ventura Freeway was completed, she recalls driving to the campus through miles of orange groves and neighborhoods of newly built homes.

Palmer remembers times when the flooding on Wilbur Avenue prevented many students from getting to school on time, but most of all she remembers the students' love of reading.

"Despite all the other changes, one thing that has always been the same is that first-graders love to read," said Palmer, who also passed along her love of the environment to the children.

"They make it so easy because they are such great students," she said.

Palmer is one of 46 Los Angeles Unified School District educators and staff members who will be honored Wednesday by the district for 40-plus years of service at a retirement reception.

Another Valley educator, Harvey Thomas, is retiring after 43 years at Osceola Street Elementary in Sylmar.

Palmer received some early accolades Friday for her commitment and dedication as parents, faculty members and students presented her with three commendations.

They were signed by state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, Gov. Gray Davis and President George W. Bush.

But Palmer did not have much time to savor her awards, she said, because she still had a class to teach.

Fridays are always the hardest, Palmer said, because the children find it difficult to pay attention when the weekend is just a few hours away. But when she rings a bell, the room quiets down.

Later in the day she complimented 7-year-old Devin Stevens on a great paper, broke up an argument between two youngsters and taught a lesson on the use of adjectives.

She also offered some information about the second grade.

"Next year, you'll have bigger desks, so you'll have more elbow room," she said as she noticed her students jostling each other for better seats.

While her enthusiasm for working with children has not flagged since the day she first walked into Room 13, she said other aspects of education nowadays played a part in her decision to retire.

"I just wish we were back into old-fashioned teaching," she said.

"I know all this testing is necessary, but I think teachers know better how students are doing in class than people who administer these tests and know nothing about the children taking them," Palmer said.

Parent Elaine Adler hugged Palmer and wondered about the fate of Room 13, where Adler's two sons and two grandchildren attended first grade.

"I can't believe Room 13 is going to have a different teacher next year," said Adler, whose 6-year-old grandson, James Tayson, is in Palmer's last class.

"People say the number 13 is unlucky, but whoever had Mrs. Palmer will tell you that they were lucky to have her."

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