Breckenridge Texan

After 30 years as an East Elementary teacher, Rowena Cyprian is retiring

After 30 years as an East Elementary teacher, Rowena Cyprian is retiring
May 23
16:33 2019

As the kids filed into their classroom in Breckenridge’s East Elementary on Tuesday afternoon, they were well-behaved but active. They had just finished lunch and had spent some time in the gym, and they were trying their best to settle down.

Their teacher, Rowena Cyprian, immediately went to work, calming the kindergartners, as they took their places on the large oval rug in the middle of the room. “Oh, I like the way you are sitting,” she said in a soft, soothing voice, calling the children by name. “I like the way you are in your spot.”

Mrs. Cyprian’s technique seemed to work instantly, as the 5- and 6-year-olds were soon all sitting in an orderly fashion around the edges of the rug.

Her teaching style is one she’s been perfecting for 30 years. Today, Thursday, May 23, was Mrs. Cyprian’s last day as a kindergarten teacher. This is her last class of youngsters. After 33 years with Breckenridge Independent School District – the first three were as a paraprofessional – she is retiring.

One of her reasons for retiring is that her husband, Breckenridge City Commissioner and Mayor Pro-tem Tom Cyprian, had to have triple bypass surgery last fall. Although he is doing better now, Mrs. Cyprian said she wanted to have more free time to spend with him.

Rowena Cyprian grew up in Victoria, Texas, where her father was an educator – a teacher and a principal – and her mother was a homemaker. She went to Victoria College and met Tom Cyprian, whom she describes as the love of her life. They got married and started a family. Then, his job as a soil scientist with what is now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, started transferring him. They lived in San Saba and Austin, finally landing in Breckenridge in October 1978.

“We’ve been here ever since,” she said, explaining that staying in Breckenridge was a choice. The family had the opportunity to go to Throckmorton and Graham with Mr. Cyprian’s job, but Mrs. Cyprian insisted on staying in Breckenridge, where their kids were doing well in school, she said.

The Cyprians have two sons, Dr. Thomas Cyprian, Jr., who is the Director of Professional Development for the Duncanville Independent School District, and Brian Cyprian, who is a Special Agent with the FBI’s cyber task force in Charlotte, North Carolina. Brian and his wife, Hloye, have an 8-year-old daughter, Madison.

Once both her sons were in school, Mrs. Cyprian went to work at East Elementary as a paraprofessional. Along the way, she attended Tarleton State University, graduating in 1989. For the first two years, she taught first grade. Then, she traded places with a kindergarten teacher who wanted to teach first grade.

Rowena Cyprian and her last class of kindergarten students posed for a picture this week. She is retiring after 30 years at East Elementary. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

“I think that was my place to be; I’ve been here ever since,” she said about kindergarten. “I really just love this grade. They’re eager to learn, and they’re just like little sponges – they absorb everything. They still love you at this age. They love hugs, and they love for me to blow them kisses in the afternoon. So, I think this was the place for me. I just love it when they learn something new and you can see the light bulb come on.”

After 30 years of teaching, Mrs. Cyprian has begun to see some of her former students’ children in her classroom. “I’ve taught first and second generations, but I said I’m not teaching third! No!” she said with a laugh.

And, she’s also seen many of her former students go on to achieve great things. One of her former students is in the classroom across the hall. Kindergarten teacher Teresa Guardiola was a student of Mrs. Cyprian. For the past couple of years, Mrs. Cyprian has been able to share some of her teaching experience with Mrs. Guardiola, and the new teacher has reciprocated by helping her own kindergarten teacher with some computer issues.

Looking back over the years, Mrs. Cyprian says many things have changed. “When I first started, there was usually a mom and a dad and maybe a grandmother. It was like a village that raised the child,” she said. “Now, we see so many grandparents that are stepping up to raise the kids.”

Another thing that is different is that the students used to show more respect, she said. Today, the school has to teach good manners to the children. “This year, though, I have been fortunate to have an excellent class,” she said. “There are parents who will go the extra mile to make sure things run smoothly in the classroom. There are parents who just want to step and do things to help their kids achieve. If they’ve got that good support system, the sky’s the limit.”

Also, teachers and students spend more time now preparing for tests and then taking the tests, even on the kindergarten level, Mrs. Cyprian said. Expectations for what and when the students learn certain things are higher now, she said.

“Now, what we do in kindergarten, they were doing, probably, in second or third grade when I first started,” she said. “But, when they come in here now, they are pretty intelligent. Some have been in school since they were 3 or 4.”

One of the most significant changes has been the amount of time kindergartners go to class. When Mrs. Cyprian first started teaching, kindergarten was just half a day. She had different morning and afternoon classes. But, she says she prefers the full day of kindergarten.

“They’re ready to learn, and they’re not rushed,” she said about the full-day schedule. “When we had it for three hours, there was really no time for learning because we had PE, library, lunch, all these other specials. I think when we went to all-day kindergarten, you didn’t rush, you took your time. The kids were able to stay focused, and they were able to learn better. I think that was the best thing that they could’ve done.”

The classroom itself has changed, too. The chalkboard has been replaced with a dry-erase board, and the students use iPads and computers in their work.

But, many things have remained constant. Nursery rhymes still adorn the walls, and primary colors are everywhere. Kindergartners still learn to write their letters and numbers, and kindergarten teachers still must have a quiet, calming persistence about them.

“You have to have lots of patience. You have to be very flexible, because if it pours down rain, you’re not going to be able to go outside for recess; you just find something else to do. They can work inside; they can play inside,” Mrs. Cyprian said. “You have to go in it with an open mind, and you really have to love what you’re doing. And lots of encouragement. You have to encourage them: ‘You can do this. You got this. I believe in you!’ You know, things of that sort.”

In this 2017 photo from the Breckenridge Texan files, Rowena Cyprian and her kindergarten class walk down the halls of East Elementary, on their way to perform their annual Thanksgiving presentation. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

Another thing that hasn’t changed much through the years is Mrs. Cyprian’s annual Thanksgiving program. Her classes have been putting on the presentation for at least the past 20 years. For the program, she splits the class into two groups, with some dressed in Pilgrim costumes and others dressed in Native American costumes. During the program, the students sing songs, and between the songs, they take turns going up to the podium and reciting a verse about the first Thanksgiving.

“I love the fellowship, and the feasting. They learn so much, and they memorize their lines,” she said. “I think that was a lesson in itself, the thanksgiving and the sharing and the caring, just being kind to one another. Today, we have a society in which we do everything in such a big hurry, and we assume so much. We don’t take time to show kindness; we don’t take time to show love. Just sharing with one another, I think that is so important.”

Reading is also an important part of Mrs. Cyprian’s teaching. “I like – and I encourage my kids — to read a lot, to just get a book and read it, instead of reading it on the computer,” she said. “I’ve also emphasized parents reading to their kids each night, even if they are 5 or 6. One thing I remember as a kid, my mom and dad would read us bedtime stories, and I think that had a big impact on my life. I wanted to read; I wanted to learn more. I always tell them, ‘If you read, you can go to places you’ve never been before and not even leave your house.’ I really put a big emphasis on reading.”

Now that she won’t be working full-time anymore, Mrs. Cyprian said she plans to continue with volunteer work that she already does and probably add some more to her agenda. “I just like staying busy, doing things, helping people, and I work a lot in my church, too,” she said. “So, it’s not like I’m going to just sit down in the rocking chair. I’m going to keep busy.”

On Tuesday, she was in the process of packing up the classroom she’s been in for 14 years and preparing for the class’ graduation ceremony that afternoon.

“I just hope I’ve touched each child in a caring way,” Mrs. Cyprian said. “I’ll probably have to fight those tears back (on the last day of school).”

 

Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Rowena Cyprian has been working at Breckenridge’s East Elementary School for 33 years, three as a paraprofessional and 30 as a teacher. On Tuesday afternoon, her final class of kindergartners had a graduation ceremony, complete with Buckaroo Green caps and gowns. She is pictured here in front of the bulletin board outside her classroom featuring the class’ graduation photos. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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