VAN BUREN, Maine — As the final weeks of his career at SAD 24 in Van Buren wind down, all that John Parent, who has taught kindergarten in the district for 38 years, wanted in his last few days was to spend time with his students.
So he was shocked Monday afternoon when he walked into the gymnasium at Van Buren District Secondary School for what he thought would be a run-of-the-mill year-end assembly. When he entered the gym, Parent saw not only his current pupils, but also family and friends, a significant crowd of his former students, athletes and even the children of his former students.
Parent was honored during the surprise assembly for his lengthy teaching career, his dedication to the profession and for making what many speakers said was a lifelong impact on students and student athletes in the district. He was treated to a cake baked in his honor and given gifts by his colleagues.
Parent, one of two kindergarten teachers at the K-12 school, will retire when classes wrap up next week. During the assembly, he was lauded by family, colleagues, and current and former students and was presented a special legislative sentiment sponsored by state Rep. Bernard Ayotte, R-Caswell. Current students sat next to him during the ceremony, eating cake and whispering to him as he put his arms around them.
SAD 24 superintendent Clayton Belanger said the district is better for having had Parent as a teacher and coach for close to four decades, a sentiment echoed by Karla Michaud, the principal of Van Buren District Secondary School.
“Every school should be blessed to have someone as dedicated as you,” she said during the event. “You’ll leave quite a gap here, but lots of memories.”
During his tenure at the school, Parent witnessed the first day of school for countless students and taught for approximately 7,200 days. He also has coached baseball, softball and basketball. When asked if Parent had touched their lives in some way, most of the 200 students who attended the assembly raised their hands.
Matt Rossignol, a 1985 Van Buren graduate who teaches social studies at Madawaska High School, was one of the first kindergarten students taught by Parent. He said Parent had a tremendous impact on his life, adding that Parent is part of most of his fondest memories and remains a close friend.
“He convinced young children that they are special and that they should strive to do special things,” said Rossignol, adding that Parent persuaded him to stick with basketball when he wanted to quit in ninth grade.
Rossignol went on to become one of the state’s best all-time high school basketball players, scoring more than 2,000 points and being selected twice to the Bangor Daily News All-Maine team. He then scored more than 1,200 points during his career at the University of Maine.
“Now we have come full circle,” Rossignol told Parent on Monday, “as you have educated all of my children. Thank you for what you have done for the entire community for so long.”
Ayotte also praised Parent for his impact on the youth of the St. John Valley. He pegged Parent as “an outstanding educator, coach and community leader for Aroostook County.”
“We certainly appreciate your service and dedication to the children and people of Van Buren,” said Ayotte.
Parent thanked those who attended the assembly, telling the crowd that a number of people had asked him how he wanted to celebrate his retirement.
“This is the best way to celebrate,” he said Monday. “I wanted to have a cake and have all of the kids here, because it is all about you, it is not about me. All of these years, I’ve had the best kids, the best players to coach, and that is a tribute to all of the parents in this community. This is just the way I wanted to celebrate.”