‘I always wanted to be a teacher’

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BY LOREEN BERLIN: "I had the best job, for me, that I could ever have had," said Peggy Huret, who is retiring after teaching for 38 years in the Garden Grove Unified School District. "It was the perfect job and best career for me, and it has been an amazing experience."

Huret taught adults with disabilities.

BY LOREEN BERLIN: "I had the best job, for me, that I could ever have had," said Peggy Huret, who is retiring after teaching for 38 years in the Garden Grove Unified School District. "It was the perfect job and best career for me, and it has been an amazing experience."

Huret taught adults with disabilities.

For many years they held their classes in the former Hettinga Elementary School at Knott and Chapman avenues. When that space was designated for another use, the disabled program nearly closed.  But because of the diligence of parents of disabled students seeking other avenues for their adult children who needed to continue learning living skills, the program survived.

Huret eventually begin teaching at Lincoln Education Center in Garden Grove.

The Wheatfill family in West Garden Grove, who have a disabled daughter, said they were concerned  when they heard the program might be disbanded; Hettinga was close to home and daughter Kristin had made many friends at school and was comfortable in that environment and didn't adjust well to changes.  The family felt Kristin had a family at school with her teacher and the aides.

 "It would have been a difficult change," said Bonnie Wheatfill. "Kristin learned how to cook, learned some computer work, life skills out in the community, shopping and eating out in restaurants and they had an exercise program for them and they worked with her on math to help with money," Wheatfill said.  

The program not only survived, it grew. Huret shared how, at first, there wasn't much money to take field trips and so they would collect newspapers and sell them to a lab company for $2 for 20-pounds. Students also made crafts and sold them — another life skill.

Huret said the students not only made money so they could go to different fast food restaurants, learning how to order their food, but also so they could experience nicer restaurants such as Olive Garden, Home Town Buffet and the like, learning how to order their food and also how to pay for their food.

Riding public transportation such as the city buses was also a learning experience, along with shopping in grocery stores, cooking and putting on two stage musical productions a year. They performed "Beauty and the Beast," "Wizard of Oz," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland," "Sleeping Beauty" and Disney's "Greased Lighting," among others.

 

"I made all of the scenery for the musicals and some costumes, while two other teachers did drama, choreography and wrote the scripts," said Huret. "We even had a Champion Basketball Special Olympics team and traveled to San Francisco with our team, and we had modern ballroom dances too."

How did Huret get into teaching?

"I always wanted to be a school teacher," she said. "And I even played school with my friends and neighbors when I was little and thought I would teach elementary K-6th grade."

After graduating from Cal State Fullerton, Huret  finished a student teaching internship at Russell Elementary School in Garden Grove and that's when she decided a different age group might be a better fit for her.

Huret's mother had a friend who worked at a convalescent home. Her mother volunteered there and took her daughter along.

"At that time the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act took effect," Huret said. "It was to give people with developmental disabilities the right to services and supports that would enable them to live a more independent and normal life."

At that point, Huret's mother turned her attention to handicapped adults and would take Huret with her and also would bring some of the adults home and Huret would help with those adults.

"The Orange County Department of Education had different schools for children ages 3 to 21 years of age and people began setting up schools for disabled adults and so I applied to work as an aide for these schools and took additional training for certification."

A Garden Grove friend, Harry Garber, asked Huret to attend a School Board meeting and tell about the program she had been working with and so she did.

"Harry asked me to come talk about all of the things I'd been involved with and then said, 'How about a job with us?'"

The district started its program at the former Garden Park Elementary School off Springdale Street, in Garden Grove.

"GGUSD put our program there for disabled adults and then we moved to Hettinga and then to the Lincoln Learning Center around 2012," Huret said. "At Hettinga, the district downsized teachers and the program; we went from a six-hour program to a four-hour program so I officially retired then, so I could become a part-time teacher. I really enjoyed my job and loved my students. My internal goal was for the students to find a job in life."

At Huret's combined 70th birthday and retirement party at the Lincoln Center recently, each attending guest was personally handed a packet of candy-coated almonds with a message: "You have touched my life and because I have known you, I am a better person."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ms. Huret is pictured behind the sign, second from right.