Ridgemoor Elementary School fourth grade class is truly a family affair

The fourth grade students in Room 14 at Ridgemoor Elementary School have the best of both worlds --...

susan rood menifee
The fourth grade students in Room 14 at Ridgemoor Elementary School have the best of both worlds -- or perhaps we should say both generations.

When they ask a question of "Miss Rood," the response comes from a substitute teacher who has become much more than that to her students. And when they address "Mrs. Rood," they look lovingly at the substitute's mother, their teacher for the first six months of the school year.

It's a labor of love that all involved will likely remember for the rest of their lives.

Susan Rood was about three months into a new school year with her fourth grade students when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in November. As she started to miss class to begin her treatment program, Susan started to worry about the long-term effect her absence would have on her students.

"As a teacher, it's one of your worst nightmares -- having to leave your classroom in the hands of someone else in the middle of the school year," Susan said.

Her response was to approach officials of the Menifee Union School District with an interesting request: Bring in her daughter, 22-year-old Ashlee Rood, to take over her the class.

Ashlee, who graduated with a teaching credential from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo last June, was completing her student teaching in San Luis Obispo. Raised in Menifee, she had attended fourth grade in the same room where her mother now taught. Ashlee had dreams of someday returning home to teach, but she had no idea how soon that time would come.

"This is the district I grew up in and I had a great experience here," Ashlee said. "When the opportunity came, I was ready to go. I was afraid of a lull following graduation because there aren't a lot of teaching jobs. I wasn't sure how much I would be called as a substitute."

Both Susan and Ashlee got their wish when Ashlee was hired as a substitute in the Menifee district. She began teaching Susan's class whenever Susan was absent. Since February, she has been the students' full-time teacher.

Midge James, who has been principal of Ridgemoor Elementary since the days when Ashlee was a student there, has high praise for both mother and daughter.

"Susan is a hard act to follow," James said. "Having Ashlee here to take her mother's place has made the transition seamless. Ashlee has been around educators all her life and knows what expectations her mother has for classroom management, for rigor of student work and for students' adherence to self-discipline and citizenship.

"Ashlee seems to have a natural ability to connect with students; she is mature and makes decisions like a veteran teacher. Yes, excellent teaching has been modeled for her all of her life, but one has to take the responsibility to own the talent and make it their own. Ashlee Rood is one of those people."

Susan Rood, who is preparing for her fourth round of chemotherapy, attends class occasionally, when she is strong enough to do so. Eventually, she explained to the students why Ashlee was taking over her class.

"The C word is frightening," Susan said. "I didn't tell the students about my cancer in the beginning. I broke my back a couple years ago, so when I had to miss class, I told them I had to have my back checked. Some of the kids had lost loved ones to cancer, and I was sensitive to how they would handle it.

"After about three months, the children began to catch on. I asked the parents what they thought I should tell them. We decided it was best to be honest and open with them."

The day Susan announced her condition to the students, she spent the entire class session talking about cancer and its treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation. The response, she says, was heartwarming.

"The students were so open and accepting of this," Susan said. "They said, 'Mrs. Rood, we knew it was something else.' "

Susan plans to finish her treatments by mid-summer and hopes to return full-time to her classroom next school year. Ashlee will continue in the district's substitute teacher pool and hope for a permanent position.

"I'd love to have my own class here," Ashlee said. "I grew up helping my mom in her classroom. I sat in this same room in the fourth grade. It's been fun seeing my first grade, fifth grade, and third grade teachers, who are still here. We still have the same principal."

No matter what happens, the students in room 14 are being well taken care of this spring.

susan rood menifee


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