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GUSTINE - Gustine High English teacher Cheri Rowton, one of the Gustine Unified School District’s longest-tenured educators, is stepping into retirement after 33 years in the classroom.

Rowton started her career at Gustine Middle School in 1987. She has been at Gustine High since 2005.

Through the years, Rowton reflected, her classroom was one of high expectations but also support and encouragement as she challenged her students to always do their best.

“What was really important to me was that they understood the challenges they have to face in the real world,” Rowton said. That young adults are able to communicate effectively, comprehend and read well is essential, she added.

“Our world today is kind of a hostile place, and I didn’t want them to leave here ill-equipped to address what is going to happen out there,” Rowton added.

The importance of education cannot be overstated, she said.

“Students need to get this job done. This is just a short, brief moment in their life,” Rowton commented. “This will be the generation that has the ability to change things for the better, and I want them to be aware of that.”

Rowton said she also enjoyed serving as a class advisor - and that students who chose to be involved in activities saw her in a different light in that role.

One priority, Rowton reflected, was to instill in her students an appreciation of reading and its importance.

Her personal classroom library of books - which she estimates number 1,000 pieces - was a place where any student could turn if looking for something to read.

“Years ago, I knew that we had to address the issue of having poor readers,” Rowton reflected. “My library was equipped with reading topics that would satisfy any high school kid looking for something to read. I think we’ve done a good job of getting these kids to read again, and some to love to read.”

She will leave the library behind for others to use, Rowton noted.

Much has changed in education over more than three decades, she remarked, including widespread use of technology.

Technology can be a powerful learning tool, Rowton remarked, but also has its drawbacks.

“The students really haven’t changed through my 33 years. What has changed for them is their distractions. The distraction of technology is very concerning to me,” she commented.

Whereas she once would see students just talking and joking around, Rowton said by way of example, she now finds that “they’re all on their phones.”

While technology has its benefits, she added, it also has its downside. “Their smart phone is not their brain. We are not producing examiners or studiers. That really worries me,” she remarked.

Rowton joined the teaching profession after serving six years of active duty in the military.

“The last couple of years (in the service) I went to college. I have always been a reader. I enjoy working with people. It just seemed a logical course to go into education with my English degree,” she explained.

Rowton spent her entire career with the Gustine Unified School District.

That her final school year - at least in traditional form - was abruptly cut short by the coronavirus crisis was difficult emotionally, Rowton acknowledged.

While she was telling students on March 18 - the last day before schools closed - that she would see them back in mid-April, Rowton shared, “I knew in my heart of hearts that this would be the last time I saw them.”

Dr. Bryan Ballenger, district superintendent, praised Rowton as a dedicated educator who “for 33 years came to school every day to be a difference-maker in the lives of the thousands of students she served. Not having Mrs. Rowton on campus next year will be very different, but we wish her nothing but the best in the next phase of her life. The students and the district are better for having Mrs. Rowton as a teacher.”

Her career, Rowton reflected, has been richly rewarding.

“I was very fortunate to work in Gustine. We have great parents and great kids,” Rowton said. “I have great stories, great memories, and I am very grateful.”