After 34 years of teaching pre-kindergarten, Island Christian School’s longest-tenured teacher, Vonnie Sommer, has retired. Throughout her time teaching 3- and 4-year-olds at the school, Sommer educated more than 500 kids. She’s been a mainstay at the school for so long that some of her former students have returned as the parents of new students. “It’s been a joy,” said Sommer.

But even with retirement knocking on her classroom door, Sommer admits that she hasn’t looked too far past the last day of school, and remained squarely focused on her kids. “I’m just going to take it slow,” she said of life after the classroom.

Sommer was drawn to the Keys in 1979 because of a family business endeavor; however, God had another plan for the Tennessee native. Sommer began working at Island Christian School as an aide in 1984. She quickly realized how much she enjoyed it and decided to stay on staff full-time. 

 “It doesn’t matter what mood you’re in when you arrive, that switch turns when you see the first smiling face get off the bus.” 

“Being here is something that God opened up for me and I just love doing it. I’ve never thought twice about what else I could do,” said Sommer.

The things she’s treasured about her time teaching are simple: the laughter of children, empowering students, teaching them about the Bible, and helping them discover and form their own opinions.

More than 500 students have passed through Vonnie Sommers Pre-K class spanning 34 years at Island Christian School. GABRIEL SANCHEZ/ Keys Weekly

“You have to be a good listener. They are just beginning to communicate and verbalize what is inside them – they want their turn and want to be heard and appreciate that you listen. They become important, and you feel that when you allow them to voice their opinions.”

It’s not just the kids she’s going to miss. The laughs, stories, and camaraderie she’s formed with the faculty will also be missed. She’s known Senior Pastor Tony Hammon since she began teaching, and has formed close bonds with colleagues Marty Calderwood and Mary Russell.

75 percent of the pre-school students pass through Mrs. Sommer’s class every year, said school founding Pastor Tony Hammon. “She’s a dear friend who has been as loyal and faithful as there could be. She’s taught hundreds of students and is going to be missed.”

As she settles into the next phase of her life, Sommer wants to be involved in volunteerism and community service initiatives. She’s also looking forward to having more time to spend with her grandchildren, to read, and to travel with her sisters.

Sommer’s advice to the faculty she leaves behind is to look for the best in each child. “Find their strengths and work with their strengths, because each one is different. What they feel, how they feel is important.”

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