Wednesday morning was the last music class of the year for the Grade 1 students at Edmonton’s Richard Secord School.
When it was over, there was hardly a sound in a room that was built for it. Not a hoot, not a holler. No one dared to run to the door.
Instead, they all lined up in a row, about 20 six-year-olds slowly and politely said goodbye to their teacher, Mrs. Bracke. Somewhere near the end of the line, a boy named Ewen wrapped his arms around Mrs. Bracke’s hip and gave her a tight squeeze. She held him for just a second.
“See ya later, goodbye,” Brenda Bracke said, almost in a whisper.
Second last in the line is a girl named Lilly. Earlier in class she sang “Charlie Over The Ocean” while Mrs. Bracke played the piano.
“Thank you for your help today,” Mrs. Bracke said sweetly as she ushered Lilly out the door. When she was gone, Mrs. Bracke let out a tiny sigh.
Somewhere near the back of the room, a grown up kid is crying. Her name is Ava Duering and she was in Mrs. Bracke’s first music class at Argyll Elementary School in 1974. Mrs. Bracke was Ms. Ripley back then.
“I went back to when she was my teacher and I’m going to cry again,” Duering later said. “I just thought how sad it was when they were saying goodbye and what an impact she had.”
Inside that classroom you can feel that impact. Ava is there with her friend, Ruth MacGillivray. She was in that same music class 43 years ago.
“She was a rockstar to us,” MacGillivray said. “We just thought the sun rose and set on Ms. Ripley.”
MacGillivray’s younger sister Barb had Ms. Ripley for music that year too. Now she’s a teacher.
“When I met her last year for the first time in 43 years, she remembered what Halloween costume I wore when I was eight,” Barb said. “It was just that part of her, that caring. You felt valued. You felt important.”
“You did a good job on us,” Ruth said with a wink toward Mrs. Bracke.
Mrs. Bracke’s final day of teaching is on Thursday. Once the boxes are all packed and she’s ready to go, she admits she might linger for a little while longer.
“It’s such joy,” she said. “It’s my life long dream to do this.”
She was in elementary school herself when she decided to become a music teacher. She saw a lack of music back then as an opportunity to provide something better as an adult.
“Everything has been in pursuit of having the perfect program,” she said.
“Students that come in that are really reluctant to learn, if they’re older and they think they’re cool, I say to them, ‘I’m like a chef. I’m going to cook as many dishes as I can until you find something you love.'”
For some of those students, music has become their lifelong love.
“To see that is really rewarding.”
In the end, it was a Christmas concert that convinced her to retire.
“It was just phenomenal. Their behaviour, the performance. I thought, ‘It’s a good time to go. Leave on a high note.'”
Over 43 years, Mrs. Bracke has taught at 13 different schools and had thousands of students. Those students find her again in some of the strangest places.
“I’ve had kids come up to me in Montreal, London, England. Disneyland is wild. That happens all the time,” Mrs. Bracke said.
“I say, ‘I’m really glad you remembered me and you’re going to have to help me with your name.’ Some I recognize, some I recognize their voice before I recognize them.”
So when Bracke tells her last class she’ll “see ya later,” she means it. Because she knows something that they don’t. She’s planning on coming back as a substitute next year.