Cynthia Kolstad gets a little teary-eyed when she reflects on her 27 years as a teacher at Grantsdale Elementary School and Daly Elementary School.

“It’s bittersweet,” she said on Wednesday during a recess period. “I’ve spent this week packing up boxes and going through all my mementoes and everything. It’s emotional.”

Kolstad is retiring this year after nearly three decades in the classroom, and there is no question which part of the job she will miss the most.

“The kids,” she said. “I’m here for the kids. I love their personalities. They’re just a lot of fun. I like to see the change from day one when I get them in September to the end of the year in June, to see how much they’ve progressed. It’s really cool. It’s very rewarding.”

After growing up on a wheat farm on the Hi-Line near Chester, Kolstad enrolled at MSU-Northern in Havre before transferring to the University of Montana to earn her bachelor’s degree in elementary education with minors in art and music. She was on the UM dance team, formerly called the Sugar Bears.

“It was a lot of fun,” she said. “I just love dancing. The football team wasn’t very good when I was there, though. The year after I left they got to go to a bowl game in Hawaii.”

In the summer of 1985, just before she accepted a job in the Hamilton School District, Kolstad traveled to Australia and New Zealand to study literature with fellow teachers from across Montana. Over the years, she has been part of development teams within her grade levels and implemented changes in teaching styles as they evolved.

She also played piano for many school functions during her tenure and accompanied her students when they were in musical productions.

As an actress, she has been heavily involved in the Hamilton Players and the Missoula Children’s Theatre, performing in “Chicago,” “Guys & Dolls,” “Cinderella” and most recently “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

She has dabbled in modeling as well, and represented the state as Miss Montana for the Miss America Petite (under 5-foot-6) competition in 1987 and 1995.

“That was neat because the kids in Grantsdale called me Miss Montana instead of Miss Kolstad that year,” she said.

She has taught all the elementary grades during her career, and helped implement many changes in curriculum and classroom development. She has taught the children of kids she taught in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and she said many things have changed over the years.

“There were no computers when I started,” she said. “Actually, I worked at Microsoft for a little while, and they had computers obviously before the schools did. And we had green chalkboards back then and now we have white boards.”

However, the one constant is her relationship with her students, who come from all different backgrounds.

“It’s rewarding because you feel like you are counselor, a parent, a friend and a teacher to many of these kids,” she explained. “The advice I would give to new teachers would be to have a lot of patience, love and caring. The most challenging thing I would say is the different academics. Some kids are low and some are high - it can be a challenge. It’s important to build relationships with the kids.”

Kolstad said she has no plans for retirement other to relax and travel back east to see her sister and her family.

This summer,she will be performing on stage in the Hamilton Playhouse’s production of “The Sound of Music.” The director of that production is Tim Shonkwiler, who was a first-grade student her first year in Grantsdale.

“So I will be dancing on stage with one of the first students I met when I first got here,” she said. “That’s pretty neat. It’s been a privilege to have taught here all these years.”

Reporter David Erickson can be reached at david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.

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