BALLSTON LAKE – The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District celebrated the work and retirement of Laura Berry who had been with the district for 37 years as a teacher, coach and lover of nature.
Berry was a physical education teacher. She also coached varsity field hockey, softball and basketball and coached modified field hockey. Berry retired last year, and the district celebrated her by planting a tree earlier this month.
“It’s a great honor,” Berry said. “I had never dreamed that after I had retired for over a year that they would still want to do something in my honor. So that was a real treat. I’m very appreciative.”
Charlton Heights Elementary School Principal Tim Sinnenberg said he wanted to do something to honor Berry for what she was able to do for the district.
“She’s really touched thousands of kids,” Charlton Heights Elementary School Principal Tim Sinnenberg said. “All the kids in the school building take physical education class, and she’s got such a great way about her. She was able to touch so many lives.
Berry is a nature and a master gardener, Sinnenberg said. He explained the school has a one-mile course the students run during their physical education class. One of the markers on the course used to be a set of maple trees which was struck down in a storm years ago.
“Laura and I would always admire the tree, in the fall it was just so beautiful,” Sinnenberg said. “When it came down I said to Laura how disappointed I was, and I said ‘when you retire one day I’m going to plant another tree in your honor because you’ve touched so many lives, you love nature and you loved this tree.”
Now, when everyone runs the mile course they will always remember Laura Berry, Sinnenberg said.
Berry retired last year. The tree planting and ceremony were not able to happen last year because of restrictions that were still in place, Sinnenberg said.
“We’re so fortunate this year to be able to gather the whole school together outside and involve our PTA and the community,” Sinnenberg said.
The tree was donated by Ryan Cullinan of Hewitts Garden Center in Glenville, who is the husband of a PTA chair, Sinnenberg said.
“We had the entire school, the staff and some community members come for a full assembly,” Sinnenberg said. “We had speakers who spoke about Laura’s contribution to the school. We ended the assembly by having the kids walk the mile loop in honor of Laura.”
The students were so happy to see Berry, Sinnenberg said. In addition to teaching at Charlton Heights Elementary School, Berry also taught at Richard H. O’Rourke Middle School and Stevens Elementary School in the district.
“Once they saw her they were coming up and hugging her, some of the kids were crying,” Sinnenberg said. “I think it was really special, not just for Laura, but for the kids too, who really missed her and were so happy to see her again.”
Berry started in the district in 1984, she said. The district shared photos of the tree planting on their social media accounts which received dozens of congratulatory comments from district families and former students of hers.
“It came out of the blue, I got a text from my old coworker Steve Jones, and he said ‘hey, would you come next week?’,” Berry said. “It was a beautiful day. Everything worked out lovely.”
Berry loves nature, she said. She explained that she was also a biology major when she went to school.
“I come from farm people, and I just love nature,” Berry said. “So part of my thing outdoors with children was always pointing out what was going on in nature, and what was growing, and what bird flew over, what the dragonflies were doing. When I left I actually planted a couple of shrubs by the playground.”
Seeing the students and staff members again was the best part of the day the tree was planted, Berry said. She said the last time she had seen them before the celebration was when they were all still wearing masks.
Berry uses some of her free time now working with trees, she said. She has been working with the town of Guilderland on a law to protect native trees and plant more trees, she said. Berry encourages everyone to learn more about native plants and the food web.
The new tree will mark the first turn on the mile course for students, Berry said.