By ELAINE ALFARO
On May 6, soon-to-be high school graduates from across La Mesa reunited at Jackson Park. What all these graduates have in common was that they attended kindergarten together at Murray Manor Elementary School. Even after 12 years, growth spurts and facial hair, some things never change.
“There’s some people here that I don’t even recognize, but the ones that I do, it’s really cool to see how much they’ve changed and also how much they’ve stayed the same,” said Max McCormick, a soon-to-be graduate of Helix High School.
The reunion was planned by their kindergarten teacher (now retired), Ruth Leiderman. She has planned reunions for most of her kindergarten classes, especially since retiring, but this one had a special meaning because students opened their 12-year-old time capsules and they remembered a fellow student who passed away on April 24, 2018.
Emma was one of Leiderman’s students who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. At the reunion there was a table that displayed her kindergarten memory book, a picture, and a candle lit in her honor. Her mom, Kristin Hetrick, attended the reunion.
“We have kept in contact [with Ruth] and she has always been there for our family,” said Hetrick. “We stay in touch on Facebook but it’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen each in person. Ruth is a force to be reckoned with. When she called me and asked ‘Are you coming?’ I was like “Well I wasn’t …” She said ‘you need to be there.”
During a moment of remembrance for Emma, Leiderman said, “She left us a few years ago but we all know she’s looking down on us with that beautiful smile of hers. She is so sweet. That was Emma. We love you Emma. You’re forever in our hearts.”
After the moment of remembrance, the students opened their time capsules. Gigi Hewitt and Jaron Lisama hadn’t seen each other in person since middle school and upon seeing each other, were ecstatic.
“We haven’t seen each other in forever. There’s a lot of kids coming in that none of us recognize. A lot changes in 10 years,” Hewitt said.
However, what they do remember are fun times and their time capsule creations.
“We had that memory of sitting there and making these time capsules. I put in a Littlest Pet Shop Toy,” Hewitt said. Lisama put in his favorite seal stuffed animal.
McCormick couldn’t find his time capsule. However, he shared that his favorite memory was learning to tie his shoes in her class and watching “The Polar Express.”
Now seeing his teacher as an almost high school graduate and adult, McCormick said, “She’s just so cool for putting this on. She’s an amazing teacher and super nice. When you’re a kid, you don’t necessarily appreciate everything fully but I definitely do now. She is such a sweet sweet person.”
Leiderman said the purpose of these reunions are really to show that these foundational memories and experiences are important and to be celebrated.
“I wanted to get out of it [this reunion] that kindergarten had such an impact on them. These memories were ones that they will always cherish,” she said. “I felt that I was a teacher that just wanted to reach every single child in every single way and I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to make a difference in these kids.”
For her last lesson to these students going into adulthood, Leiderman shared a few bits of wisdom: “The focus changes. Never give up. You’re going to succeed. Put your heart into it. Put your work into it. I think the most important thing is, things will be okay. It will be okay.”