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Three key staff members retire from Kohala Elementary School

From left, Rose Mae Watterson, Noreen Hagio and Mary Lou Griesser look at the memory book given to them by the Kohala Elementary School staff upon their retirement. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM | NHN)
From left, Rose Mae Watterson, Noreen Hagio and Mary Lou Griesser look at the memory book given to them by the Kohala Elementary School staff upon their retirement. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM | NHN)
From left, Rose Mae Watterson, Noreen Hagio and Mary Lou Griesser look at the memory book given to them by the Kohala Elementary School staff upon their retirement. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
From left, Rose Mae Watterson, Noreen Hagio and Mary Lou Griesser look at the memory book given to them by the Kohala Elementary School staff upon their retirement. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
From left, Rose Mae Watterson, Noreen Hagio and Mary Lou Griesser look at the memory book given to them by the Kohala Elementary School staff upon their retirement. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
From left, Rose Mae Watterson, Noreen Hagio and Mary Lou Griesser look at the memory book given to them by the Kohala Elementary School staff upon their retirement. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)

When school started at the beginning of the month, three key people were missing from Kohala Elementary School – second grade teachers Noreen Hagio and Mary Lou Griesser and Rose Mae Watterson, school counselor.

“They were the veteran teachers in our school for many years and possessed wisdom that they were more than willing to share,” said Eddeille Thomas, a Kohala Elementary School second grade teacher.

As they began their retirement, each of the three was given a memory book compiled by fellow teachers of key events and highlights.

“Amoo (Ching-Kainoa) and I wanted to give them something they could take with them in their retirement. It also allowed other faculty and staff to share their memories with them.”

Watterson was part of North Hawaii schools for 42 years and seven months. Born and raised in Waimea, she attended Chapman University in Orange, California.

While there, she attended a semester at sea program her junior year, and sailed around the world for a semester.

“That was a highlight until today,” she said. “ … It made me stronger.”

Watterson taught fifth grade in her hometown school for two years before moving to Kohala Elementary School.

After nine year of teaching, she went back to school for her master’s degree in counseling and guidance, and began her career as a school counselor.

Nineteen years ago, while at Kohala Elementary, Watterson started a program eventually called “Healthy Lifestyles.”

“One hundred percent of students participate,” she said.

Through the program, kindergarten and first graders learn creative movement, second graders learn to swim and play table tennis, and fourth and fifth graders learn hip hop – all in an effort to help students get education, learn coordination, balance, and safety in the water.

Watterson said the program wouldn’t be the same without the help of the community volunteers. Jeff Coakley, a Kamehameha Park county lifeguard, also helps with swim lessons for second graders and Michal Carrillo, of LavaRoots Performing Arts, helps fourth and fifth graders learn hip hop. Len Winkler, table tennis instructor, works with second graders.

Griesser came to Kohala from Newport Beach in 1971 as a new graduate to teach at the school for a semester. Despite leaving briefly in 1978, she’s been here ever since.

Her love for her students continued long after the dismissal bell rang. She said she really enjoyed teaching students to read, and that the teachers helped one another and shared ideas and successful methods with each other in working with the students.

“Sometimes you can incorporate what another teacher is doing in your own classroom,” Griesser said.

Griesser was also a music teacher and is known by her former students as a cellist.

“Mary Lou introduced countless second graders to music like opera and cello,” Thomas said.

Griesser said students still come up to her and tell her she was the first person to introduce them to the cello.

Noreen Hagio became a teacher after working in the hotels. When her children were young, she went back to school to earn her teacher certification, then continued on and got her master’s degree.

During her time at Kohala Elementary, she started the Amigo Program between high school students taking Spanish and her own second graders, who were also learning Spanish. Hagio said the program strengthened both age groups — making the teens stronger in public speaking and the elementary school students more comfortable with a new language.

“Noreen provided the structure some students needed to succeed, and she gave many opportunities for hands on activities, which made school more enjoyable,” Thomas said.

With 25 and a half years of teaching service, Hagio left her mark on the Kohala community.

“Noreen and Mary Lou were pillars in second grade,” said Thomas. “The three of us each brought something different to the table and made a great team. In the 10 years since I have known them, they always showed me respect and were open to my ideas, even when I was the new teacher.”

Though they no longer will be found at the school each day, they will always remain in the hearts of their students.