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Sheridan teacher starts 34th year

By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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Laurel Etchepare knew she wanted to teach since she was in the first grade, and for the past 33 years, she has been living that dream. Last week, Etchepare, a 58-year-old Roseville resident, began her 34th year teaching at Sheridan Elementary School. She’s never taught anywhere else, and she doesn’t want to. “I’ll work here until they tell me I can’t,” Etchepare said. What keeps her coming to work with a smile on her face? “It’s obviously the children,” Etchepare said. “Seeing them learn, especially when they’re just starting to learn to read, is great.” Etchepare is teaching first and second graders this year, and in all but one of her years as a teacher, she has instructed first graders. “We have a very, very good reading program here,” said Principal Kris Knutson. “It starts in kindergarten, but first grade is where it really becomes solidified, and she is the driving force behind our literacy program.” Though Etchepare’s students aren’t concerned with literacy rates and how good the reading program is, they enjoy being in her class. “She’s a good teacher,” said second grader Darren Bowen, 6. “On Fridays, she lets us play and build stuff with sticks. I built a tower.” Etchepare explained that she sets aside time to allow the students who finish their work to play with educational toys on Fridays. Darren was in Etchepare’s class last year, and he said math and reading are his favorite subjects. Another of Etchepare’s students who enjoys reading is 7-year-old second grader Juan Fernandez. “She’s nice. She’s a good teacher,” Fernandez said. “If I do all my work, I get to play on Fridays.” Etchepare grew up in the small town of Maxwell, north of Sacramento along Interstate 5. She did her student teaching in San Jose, but she knew she wanted to work in a small-town school. “All I did (when I started) was apply to small towns,” Etchepare said. When she interviewed in Lincoln in 1976, she was told there was an opening at Sheridan, and it turned out to be a perfect fit. Over the past 33 years, Etchepare has seen some changes in the school. “It started out very small, then we started getting bigger, but now we’re smaller again,” Etchepare said, explaining that the growth has gone through a cycle. Some aspects of the job have permanently changed, according to Etchepare. “Now, at least we have a principal,” she said, adding that when she started, the principal was only on campus Tuesdays and Thursdays at lunchtime. Another aspect that has seen irreversible change is the standards the children are expected to meet. “There are things I used to teach my second graders that I’m now teaching my first graders,” Etchepare said. According to Etchepare, the kids pick it up quickly, as long as they are prepared for school. In her spare time, Etchepare enjoys reading and swimming, and she spends four weeks each summer teaching swimming lessons to about 40 kids. She also teaches P.E. to all of her students. One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching, Etchepare said, is when she sees her former students being successful. One of her students, Adrienne Bankert, is now an anchor at KCRA Channel 3 in Sacramento. “She still comes back and participates in programs like Read Across America,” Etchepare said. “She’s kind of like a model to them.” It’s not uncommon to run into parents at Back to School Night who she taught as first graders, Etchepare said. “Her enthusiasm drives this school,” Knutson said. “She is so willing to do anything to support the kids. The staff looks to her for ideas.” Etchepare said she has enjoyed her career and has no regrets. “I wish she could be here for another 34 years,” Knutson said. Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com.