The Silicon Valley Voice

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Shirley Stibbard, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Sutter Elementary School teacher Shirley Stibbard’s 23 kindergarten students—and their parents—clearly love her. She has the proof.

It was about 5 p.m. Friday in the school parking lot. Stibbard had stayed late to turn in report cards, and she was loading her car to head home for the Thanksgiving week school break.

She had just stuffed enough birthday balloons in the back of the car to obstruct the view out the rear window. Now, she was unloading a wagon filled with flower arrangements and dozens of roses—red, pink, yellow, orange.


They were gifts from her students. With the help of their parents and class aide Joanne Johnston, the kindergarteners had thrown their teacher a surprise birthday party.

“When the kids came in from the kindergarten yard after PE on Thursday, each one was carrying a rose. One by one they walked in, giving me their roses,” said Stibbard. “I was in tears. I could barely see.”

Parents took pictures and passed out cupcakes. They even presented birthday/thank you notes from former students. Stibbard’s kindergarteners signed a giant card with their thumbprints and sweet words: Thank you. You’re the best. I love you.

She was wearing one of her gifts: a red San Francisco 49ers sweatshirt with her name on the back. Her number? Twenty-three, for her 23 students.

Stibbard more than teaches in Santa Clara. Her family lives there as well—in her husband’s childhood home. Her son and daughter attend Sutter.

Not everyone is up to the challenge of teaching five- and six-year-olds. But Stibbard, who has been teaching kindergarten for 16 years, the last 7 at Sutter, clearly loves her job and her students as much as they love her.

“You get instant gratification when you’re teaching them something new and you see their faces light up,” said Stibbard. “When they compliment you and give you a hug, or say ‘Thank you,’ you truly feel gratified.”

Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a column where we casually interview people we meet in Silicon Valley. The column hopes to highlight what makes Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and the rest of the South Bay special — the people who live, work and play here.


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