CHICAGO — Kathy Florence and Diane Jagielnik are retiring from Archer Heights' St. Bruno School with hall-of-fame-worthy teaching statistics.
They both have taught at St. Bruno, also their alma mater, since 1973. They've instructed more than 2,400 students. After their final official school day June 6, they'll leave the school at 4839 S. Harding Ave. with more than 100 unused sick days.
"They have changed lives by sharing their excitement of learning with everyone around them," St. Bruno School principal Colleen Schrantz said.
The hardworking pair "always made themselves available to not only run afterschool activities for our students, but stay at school to tutor kids to make sure they were achieving their maximum potential," Schrantz said.
The principal said "not everyone is willing or able to put so much into a job that offers so little in the way of money or perks or prestige."
"So why do they do it? For over 40 years? Because they had this crazy, unshakeable idea that kids are more important than anything else in the world.”
Florence, of Beverly, and Jagielnik, of West Elsdon, both grew up in Archer Heights. They graduated from St. Bruno School together and didn't reunite until their teaching orientation in 1973. They've been inseparable ever since.
"I always wanted to stay at St. Bruno," said Jagielnik, a first-grade teacher who was assistant principal from 1996-2006.
Said Florence, a kindergarten teacher who is also retiring as the assistant principal: “St. Bruno has a wonderful sense of community — the members of St. Bruno feel like a family. There have been many times when families move to other neighborhoods and select new schools for their children. They often return to St. Bruno explaining there is nothing else like it."
St. Bruno celebrated a Mass Saturday in the teachers' honor and to acknowledge their significant contributions to the Southwest Side school not far from Midway Airport.
Jagielnik said her favorite memories are simply watching her students grow from the beginning of the school year to the end, especially those who transform from non-readers to readers.
Florence said her most cherished times at St. Bruno include hosting a circus for the kindergarten class where students would perform as lion tamers, snake charmers, strong men and tightrope walkers.
"I loved how the circus helped build self-confidence by being in front of an audience of parents, older students and members of the community," said Florence, a Saint Xavier University alumna.
And decades of teaching thousands have left a profound impact on both instructors.
"The students are much more than students, they are like our children," said Jagielnik, a DePaul University graduate. "It’s not just our job to be a good supporter of their educations. It’s our passion. It’s our lives.”