For the first time in 45 years, Jacque Armstrong has left an Oakdale Joint Unified School campus for the final time.
Even more impressive is the fact that she has spent 57 years of her life connected to Oakdale Schools. The third generation Oakdalean completed her academic career in Oakdale schools, before moving on to Modesto Junior College. She was a child development major.
Forty-five years of her career were spent throughout the district as an instructional aide, formerly known as a Para Professional. On Friday, May 25 however, the long-term staffer woke to a new chapter – retired.
“I think it really hasn’t hit me that much,” Armstrong said of her newest title.
Friday morning she woke to an activity of yard sale shopping and celebratory breakfast at Moss Rose with friends, activities she shared she looks forward to doing more of as she enters this next phase of her life.
“Before I could never go,” she said of her friends’ weekly Friday tradition. Now, however, this along with painting and travel will be a part of her new world.
Armstrong first entered into OJUSD at the age of 23. Her hiring process was a stark difference to the one currently used.
“My first grade teacher said, Jacque if you join the Native Daughters, I’ll get you a job. I didn’t have to have an interview or anything,” she said.
And as simple as that, Armstrong reported to Fair Oaks Elementary school to step in for an aide that was ill. As a result, she spent her first 27 years at that campus. During her tenure she has worked under 14 principals, nine teachers and has touched the lives of over 300 students of varying learning abilities.
“I’ve always enjoyed being around kids,” she said. “In fact, I baby sat the principal (Kathy Pinole) at Fair Oaks and I babysat the Vice Principal at Cloverland.”
Not to be one to sit idle for long, Armstrong shared she intends to return to the campuses to do volunteer work in the fall, sharing art with the students. She also intends to care for the children of her former peers when their children fall ill. Allowing the teachers both peace of mind, as well as saving sick days or vacation days.
In 45 years of working in education, there have been many notable changes. Armstrong speaks of days when teachers could spank children, personal vehicles could be used for field trips and children were respectful of elders.
“They just don’t mind as well and they’re not as polite,” she said of the current student body. Yet, until she completed her final day, she still loved what she did.
“It was just getting harder for me to get around,” Armstrong said of the physical part of the job and keeping up with her students. “It was hard to leave the kids.”
When asked of her fondest memory from the past 45 years, she is hard pressed to come up with just one or even half a dozen. The Para Professional shared much of her joy comes when crossing paths with past students and their parents as they share their growth and progress. This past week she was also present at the college graduation of former student Kenny Rich, as he completed his Bachelor’s degree from Stanislaus State.
“I knew I was going to do it for a long time,” she said of working as an aide, “…not 45 years.”
One of few words, Armstrong shows a bit of emotion as she reflects on her career as well as her last day at Fair Oaks, the campus where her career began. Almost as if it was a written tale, she was acknowledged and celebrated by the child she once baby sat.
As she stood before a student body of 850 children, Pinole shared her appreciation for her past babysitter who gave 45 years of her life to students with special needs. The response of the children, a standing ovation. A gesture, which both overwhelmed and thrilled Armstrong.
“It probably won’t hit me until it’s time to go back,” she said of the finality of her career. “I’m not one to just sit around, but I was ready to retire.”