‘Each one of them was an inspiration to my life’

Former Sussex County resident Jim Castimore fondly remembers growing up in the Sparta school district back in the 1950’s and 60’s. Stay tuned for next week’s special “Salute to Teachers” edition of the paper, featuring letters from local students, telling us how their teachers have gotten them through the past year.

| 26 Apr 2021 | 11:35

Over the past few weeks, we asked local kids to send us letters about their favorite teachers. We received countless entries from toddlers in pre-school, all the way up through to middle school students.

And one senior: Jim Castimore, a 1969 graduate of Sparta High School.

“I am not a kid. However, I would like to thank all my teachers from the past,” he wrote. “When I first went to school there was no school. The V.F.W. was my kindergarten...we attended the old town hall for class. And yes, we walked to school.”

In the mid-1950s, Sparta was rapidly expanding and in need of a new elementary school, Castimore recalled. Helen Morgan, the legendary teacher after whom the Sparta elementary school is now named, was his Kindergarten teacher. That year, he went to “school” at the VFW. When first grade rolled around, he and his classmates were sent across the street to the old town hall.

“At that time, there was only the Mohawk Avenue School. There wasn’t even a high school in those years; all the older students had to take a bus to Newton High,” Castimore said.

Castimore remembers his Kindergarten class well: “Miss Morgan was stern, but gentle. She would bring us homemade cookies every day and was an inspiration to so many kids.”

Helen Morgan taught for 40 years in Sparta and often brought her Saint Bernard dog to school. When the school district began planning for a new elementary school in 1958, the Sparta Board of Education decided to leave the naming up to the students. Jonathan Price, a second grade student, submitted the winning entry: “Miss Helen Morgan gave us a good start ... I think she would give the new school a good start.”

For Castimore, Miss Morgan was the first of many exceptional teachers. “Each one of them was an inspiration to my life,” he said.

“Sparta was a growing town, but everything still felt close-knit. Everyone always helped one another, and teachers were a huge part of that.” Every teacher, Castimore said, was willing to stay after school and tutor their students. “They really wanted their students to learn.”

When asked to describe his education back in the day, Castimore did it in one word: “perfect.”

“I couldn’t pick out a favorite teacher of mine, or tell a special story, because that would be a disservice to all the other teachers. Each one offered something different and special.”

Fifty years later, Castimore still remembers the names of his teachers. “I may not have been the best student, but the teachers were certainly wonderful,” he joked.

Today’s students agree with Castimore: our teachers are wonderful. Stay tuned for next week’s special “Salute to Teachers” edition of the paper, featuring heartfelt, handwritten letters from local students thanking our teachers for making learning fun – even in the most difficult of times.