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Beloved Niwot Elementary teachers retire, their impact will live on

It's the children that drew them to teaching and what they'll miss the most in retirement. But two Niwot Elementary School teachers have decided it's time to focus on other things in life.

"I came home crying Tuesday night. I'll miss those bright little faces," special education teacher Trish Norten said. She is retiring after teaching for 25 years, 10 in Niwot.

First grade teacher Dale Peterson is leaving the school after 26 years of teaching first and second grade. With the exception of student teaching, he spent his entire career at Niwot Elementary.

"I will miss their smiles and their hugs and how they race over and tell me what's going on in their lives," Peterson said. "They make me laugh. Teaching first and second grade, they are so eager to please, they want to do what's right. They are so earnest and dear."

Niwot Elementary Principal Nancy Pitz said Peterson had a positive impact on the students, staff and community, "He was adored for his creativity, compassion, patience, sense of humor, and forward thinking. His love of teaching and the students shined through every single day."

Peterson said he always tried to make learning fun. "I use a lot of puppets and music and play the guitar. Most kids, when they write letters to me when they're in high school or college, they mention those things. It's important to get through all the academics, but they can be delivered so they really engage kids and they have a good time," he said.

His goal was to imprint a love of learning that lasts through the rest of their school years and beyond. "It can encourage them to try to find the positive in any situation. We have a lot of choice in how we tend to approach our work. We can approach it as just a chore or, 'How can I get this done and have fun with it or make it something that's enjoyable?'"

Peterson made a lasting impression with parents, including Pam Hollar. "He made every day in the classroom an amazing experience full of fun and learning," Hollar wrote in an email. "He brought knowledge and excitement to his classroom that inspired my girls to look outside their own worlds. He is genuinely interested and caring about my family, which has gone far past the days they were his students. Both of my girls tested for their black belts in December and Dale came to cheer them on, which was so incredible. That is Dale Peterson to us. A teacher that is made of magic."

Peterson has appreciated the parents as well, along with his colleagues and the Niwot community. "It's such a remarkable place with such supportive, active parents and wonderful kids," he said.

Peterson said parent volunteers are one of the things that stands out most to him over his career. One year, pre-pandemic, he had 30 volunteers. "I think the kids really know there are a lot of people out there that really care about them," he said.

That support from Peterson will continue in the future, just on a smaller scale. He plans to continue as one of the sponsors of the Mwebaza Foundation program at the school. It connects students in Colorado with those in Uganda.

Peterson also plans to spend time with his own kids at home this summer and take piano lessons before deciding what he wants to do next.

Trish Norten worked with kids who needed some extra support with academics and social skills as a special education teacher at the school.

"Everything Trish did was about the students," Principal Nancy Pitz said. "She never wavered from her "why" and she never gave up on them. Her presence in the building was always positive, always willing, always honest, and always one we could count on."

Norten said she took pride in being a good teammate and communicator in her relationship with students, parents and staff, focusing on "patience, caring and listening."

She said she was lucky to work in small groups of five or six kids and enjoyed seeing their progress, "Their growth is never huge in one year, but just the small steps they take is nice to see."

Along with noting their successes, Norten said the kids were simply a joy to be around, "They are just funny and happy. Even during the difficult times of Covid, when we were worried about it, they were just happy to be there. Even in difficult times when teachers have heavy hearts, kids are there for recess and fun. It's wonderful to be with them and close off the rest of the world."

Norten is looking forward to traveling in her retirement, but she can't leave the kids or the school entirely. She plans to tutor and be a substitute teacher at the school so she can continue to engage with her former students and the staff.

"Dale and Trish made our school a better place and had such an impact on what we are all about. They will be missed very much but what they taught us all will long live on," Pitz said.


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