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Longtime PE teacher leaves a legacy at El Roble

Claremont’s celebrated school system will absorb another blow next week when beloved El Roble Intermediate PE teacher Terri Kegans retires after 26 years on the job.

Ms. Kegans, 58, joins Claremont High’s Jack Harper, another cornerstone educator who is also calling it quits June 14 after 39 years.

“I don’t think you can replace her,” said seven-year El Roble Principal Scott Martinez. “She’s been a tremendous asset to Claremont. We can only hope to get someone who can carry on. We’re really going to miss her.”

It’s difficult to quantify the 1977 CHS grad’s value to El Roble. Along with heading up the school’s physical education department, the 2014 Claremont Unified School District Teacher of the Year was also instrumental in getting its gym and PE classrooms built.

She also runs water polo clinics, started the school’s swim team, helped start the cross country and track teams, the junior lifeguard program, free afterschool swim lessons for “bashful” El Roble students, and coordinated Condit Elementary’s end of the year parties at El Roble pool when it was open for business.

In person, Ms. Kegans is—no surprise—bristling with energy. She has the optimistic enthusiasm of a rookie teacher, nowhere near the stereotype of a burnt-out educator riding out the last few days on the job. Asked to reflect, she chose to look forward.

“I’ve been very fortunate at El Roble,” Ms. Kegans said. “We have great administration and great educators. I think our whole campus is on board with our PE program. Hopefully we’re building a good sounding board for our students to see that it is important and there is value [in PE], and teachers see it from other curriculums and you just keep building it out.”

Fellow PE teacher Debbie Foster is more than just a co-worker. She and Ms. Kegans began teaching at El Roble at the same time (1992) and in the same job, sharing a full-time position for the first 13 years of their tenures.

“It’s been just an absolute blast,” Ms. Foster said. “We raised our kids together. She means the world to me. She’s a great mentor, a great friend, and it’s going to be a huge loss.”

Looking back, Ms. Kegans had nothing but wonderful memories of her time at El Roble. But she does lament some of the changes that have come in PE.

“It’s getting diminished,” she said. “When you look at Claremont High’s graduation rates, we do a fantastic job. But if you look at the obesity rates we could do better there. If we could make it a graduation requirement, that might help our community and our society. Research shows that physical education and being active daily is the best free medicine for your health.”

Teaching middle school kids, many a teacher has noted, can be challenging. But Ms. Kegans has thrived in the demographic.

“They’re kind of in this bubble,” she said. “They’re in the middle. They’re not elementary, and they’re not high school.”

Her teaching methods have always stressed not just the instruction and measurement of physical activity, but the overall health of her students, physically and mentally.

“These junior high kids need to see that there are so many different people with so many different abilities,” she said. “You could have this student that looks like they’re still in fourth grade and another student that looks like they should be going to college, and they’ve got to figure out how to work together and work through those hardships by encouraging each other, trying to stop something that shouldn’t be going on and standing up for it. [Middle school] is a great diving board for that.”

In retirement, the lifelong Claremonter and her husband (who retired last year) will be splitting time between their longtime home here and a new place they bought just this week in Grand Junction, Colorado. Two of the couple’s three children, Kylie and Reese, reside there. (Their youngest son, Dylan, is waiting to hear on joining the US Navy.)

Their Colorado home is on three and-a-half acres. “I guess I’m gonna earn the sit-down mower,” Ms. Kegans joked. “It’ll be beautiful.”

Kylie is due to give birth to Ms. Kegans’ third grandchild next month. “I’m only going to get older,” she said. “I better get out now while I can still go work in their classrooms and volunteer other places that need help.”

She has also sniffed around the kinesiology department at Colorado Mesa University, where both of her two Colorado offspring work, and may just be seen volunteering next year at the Division II school.

Ms. Foster said she’s going to miss the good-natured jabs and private jokes the two have shared over the past 26 years.

“It’s way fun, just the little pranks that we do to each other throughout the day and throughout the years, and the things we’ve gotten away with. It’s gonna be tough.”

“I don’t feel like it’s my last day,” Ms. Kegans said. “People ask me all the time, ‘What’s the countdown?’ And I don’t do the countdown. I started to think, ‘I only have this many Mondays, I only have this many days in the classroom and the fitness lab. I’ve got to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do, because it’s my last shot.’ I don’t think in terms of ‘This is how many days are left.’ I don’t want to leave anything out there. It’s like when you’re running a race: if you’re not throwing up at the end, you left something out there, energy that you could have finished better with.”

Asked if she thought she might shed a tear on her final day on the job, Ms. Kegans paused to gather her feelings.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I try not to think of it. I’ve cried twice on this campus in my career.”

Then she did what she’s been doing for Claremont kids for nearly 30 years: she made it a teaching moment.

“But you know what? It’s okay to show emotions. It’s really good for kids to see you have emotions and failures, and you can pick yourself back up from that.”

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com