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YUMA, Ariz. (AP) — Amanda Stoermer, a second- and third-grade teacher at James D. Price Elementary School, felt like she had stepped back in time to her elementary school days when her own second-grade teacher came to her classroom to read to her students.
Nancy Rutan visited Stoermer's class to read the book "Jumanji" as part of Read Across America Day - 40 years after Stoermer had been one of Rutan's students at O.C. Johnson Elementary School.
At some point during story-time, Stoermer said she sat and listened to Rutan, right alongside her students.
"I didn't even realize I had sat with my class on the floor and was enthralled in the story, just like 40 years ago when I was in her class," she said. ".It felt like old times."
Although Stoermer had a full schedule of people coming to read as part of the national reading initiative, intended to get children excited about reading in honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, she said that having Rutan talk to her class was definitely a special experience for her.
"Although I am very grateful for all of my elementary teachers, Mrs. Rutan has always been my favorite," she said.
"I really love my teacher. I feel like a kid, but it's true. She's so amazing, and I'm glad we reconnected."
Stoermer got back in touch with Rutan through a mutual friend and fellow teacher, Linda Hausman. When Stoermer was teaching at Gwyneth Ham Elementary, she had mentioned to her colleagues that Rutan was an instructor that inspired her to become a teacher. Hausman said she had an address for her, and so Stoermer wrote her a letter thanking her.
"I got that letter 20 years after I taught her in class," Rutan said. "It meant a lot to me. It was the first time I've ever had a student acknowledge that I was their teacher and that I had, in some way, influenced their life."
Rutan remembers calling her parents that night and thanking them for making sure she had received an education. She said that because of their efforts, the circle had come back around and now someone else was doing something that she loved.
When she received Stoermer's letter, Rutan remembered exactly who she was.
When one of Stoermer's students asked Rutan, "How was Mrs. Stoermer as a kid?" Rutan said that she was a determined, spunky child and an overall "special girl."
Rutan recalled being pregnant as Stoermer's fourth-grade teacher. While Stoermer wasn't able to buy a gift for the baby, she collected soda pop cans and sold them to buy a rubber duck for the baby. Rutan said she still thinks of Stoermer every time she sees a rubber duck.
Stoermer recalled her parents were going through a divorce when she was in Rutan's class. She said Rutan helped her get through that difficult point by providing a nurturing classroom.
When asked about visiting Stoermer's class, Rutan said, "It was a little emotional to think, 'Here's someone that I had as a second-grader and now I'm in her classroom of children the same age.' It was a really good feeling and it was fun."
After moving to Idaho in 1976, Rutan said she was saddened to think she may never see any of her students again. When she moved back to Yuma with her husband Doug, who is now the superintendent of Mohawk Elementary School District, she has been able to reconnect with a handful of her students.
"That's always fun for me," she said. "You have a child that is your student and they become like your own children and you never lose that. They're always part of you."
After 26 years of teaching in Yuma and Idaho, Rutan retired from teaching in 2005, but said she felt at home in Stoermer's classroom. "I love to read to children because it's like painting a picture with words, just creating that image in their minds. I guess I'm still a teacher in a lot of ways."
Rutan encouraged others to consider volunteering to read in classrooms.
"As a student, you see your teacher every day and you know your teacher loves books, and your teacher reads to you, but I think it's important for (students) to see books are important to all walks of life," she said. "Books can bring things alive."
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