Hearts Pumped For 34 Years Through Exercise Are Saddened As Two Favorite Gym Teachers Retire
By Cheryl Conway
As their last fifth grade field day was coming to a close on June 11, students head back into Chester M. Stephens Elementary School in Budd Lake while Karen Drach-Parker danced to the blasting music and Michael Paul Sickles cleaned up the field after a full day of games and activities.
Working 34 years side-by-side in the Mt. Olive School District, how fitting that the co-gym teachers have walked out the doors of Chester M. Stephen’s Elementary School at the same time for retirement.
Drach-Parker, 58 of Succassunna, and Sickles, 59, of Long Valley have officially retired from CMS effective as of June 30. Parker, who has been a gym teacher at CMS for the past 14 years since the school was converted from the middle school in Sept. 2001, hid her emotion with her black shades as she was clapped out with the fifth graders at the annual Clap Out on June 24.
Sickles has worked along-side Drach-Parker at CMS for the past nine years. The dynamic duo were an amazing team bringing the best in exercise whether through daily physical education classes or fun events like the annual Rock-n-Roll-athon, Country Mouse City Mouse Dance, walkathon, field days and fifth grade picnic.
With all of the events that they did plan together, planning to retire at the same time was not one of them.
They both agreed it was a “coincidence. I guess we kind of think alike,” says Sickles, who had worked at Sandshore Elementary School for 25 years before coming to CMS.
“Didn’t plan on it,” says Drach-Parker, who officially announced her resignation on April 24 to school leaders. Drach-Parker had also worked at Sandshore for 20 years as a physical education/health teacher before coming to CMS.
While they both enjoyed their time working in the Mt. Olive School district, they both said they were ready to retire.
Drach-Parker says, “Feel like it’s the right time – like Dr. Seuss’ character, Marvin K.
Mooney- “the time has come, the time is now.” I have some other opportunities I want to pursue- why not give the next generation a chance to grow as a person and professional?”
Her plans now are to “continue to referee field hockey and lacrosse; and there is the possibility of supervising health and physical education student teachers.”
Sickles says he wanted to retire “to spend more time with my family, wife, Barbara, sons, Michael and John and dog, Blackjack.” His plan is to move to Arizona for a couple of years and sight-see “while enjoying more time with our sons who are attending Arizona State University.”
While they looked forward to retirement, they leave with mixed emotions.
“It’s bittersweet,” says Drach-Parker. “It took a while to make a decision. Definitely will miss the people- students and colleagues alike, but I feel happy when I think about it, so it must be right.”
Sickles agrees, “I have mixed feelings in that I am going to miss the people I have been exposed to while teaching but I also feel very fortunate that I have been able to work in a profession for 34 years that I thoroughly enjoyed. I also feel fortunate that I have been surrounded by a lot of great people who have supported and complimented me throughout my career.”
He says “I’ve enjoyed the relationships I have developed with staff, parents and students and the rewards that come from seeing students grow and develop through our instruction.”
Sickles chose a career in physical education because of his interest in sports and “passion for staying physically fit.” He says he felt “that as a physical education teacher/coach there would be an opportunity to instill my interests and passion for exercise in my students.”
He is most pleased with his career choice.
“I feel I have made a difference when I see a smile on a student’s face when they accomplish a goal that they didn’t think they were capable of” and that he has “instilled in our students the importance of daily exercise and the enjoyment and satisfaction that comes from being physically active.”
Influenced by a “great middle school PE and art teacher that seemed to really
enjoy their jobs” and “success and friendships on the field and court” with “two
wonderful coaches that guided me in my college decision,” Drach-Parker made her decision to follow a career in physical education.
“What a great career it’s been- I get to wear comfortable clothing and sneakers, work outside, not worry about my hair or make-up!” she says. “But seriously- it’s so rewarding to make that connection with children and share in their successes whether it’s a psychomotor, cognitive or
affective achievement. Another enjoyment is the other staff and teachers I have been able to work with over the years. At SS and CMS, I have had the opportunity to share ideas, problem solve, lean
on, offer a hand and a shoulder, break bread, laugh, cry, mourn, celebrate, dance, run, exercise and travel with some of the most wonderful people on this earth.”
While their positions were not filled before their last day, both teachers offered some advice to their future replacements.
It is Sickles’ hope that the new gym teachers continue “to promote the importance of being physically active for a healthy, happy lifestyle and to take advantage of the opportunity you have every day in making a difference in the lives of your students.”
Drach-Parker says, “Be the best Physical Education teacher you can be- it is time consuming, energy zapping, mentally exhausting, but so, so satisfying. Use the pedagogy and instill a love of movement in each student. Utilize your experiences as a team member with each colleague to create successes together for the sake of the individual child, her/his family and the overall CMS family.”
Their favorite memories in their profession have been “seeing students involved and enjoying daily P.E. classes and special activities,” says Sickles.
“There are so many” favorites,” says Drach-Parker; “all the smiles when a student gets it- like
jumping rope, skipping, climbing to the top of the net, blocking a goal, making a goal; the bike riding unit where kids took off on two wheels for the first time; the times I took students out to play
in the snow as a part of a cross-curricular activity studying Laura Ingalls Wilder; the humorous moments like when the fox kept stealing the ball as we were setting up for field day; the dads dressed up for
the Country Mouse City Mouse Dances- including whiskers and tails.”
As their career has come to a close, the two very much appreciated, fun-spirited gym teachers offer final words of advice and a heart-felt thank-you to the school community.
“I want to thank Mt. Olive BOE for an enjoyable 34 years of employment, Mrs. Drach-Parker [and others] for all of the support and great memories and the Mt. Olive community for all of the fond memories provided by working with your children. It has been a real pleasure.”
Drach-Parker concludes, “It’s been a great ride! God certainly blessed me and I hope I did Him
proud. But I didn’t do it alone- it was only through the teamwork of my partner, Mike Sickles, my colleagues and my family that I was able to reach a level of success in my career. So to my CMS family,
follow the CMS philosophy- be kind to one another; work together and talk it out- and if that doesn’t seem to be solving the problem quickly, play ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ and move on.”