“She made the world more beautiful,” principal Lorelle Dawes said as she opened the dedication of a new sitting area at Cabrillo Middle School to honor the late Anne Morningstar, who had taught there for more than 15 years.
Morningstar, a beloved teacher by many former students, was first diagnosed with leukemia in 2011, and after fighting it for several years and taking multiple leaves of absence, passed away last May.
She had taught mainly sixth graders at Cabrillo since 1999. In her last years there, she taught Speech, Language Arts, and Social Studies.
The remembrance ceremony and dedication was held during the school’s 3rd period on Dec. 7.
At the ceremony, students and former staff members shared their memories of Morningstar.
“Ms. Morningstar was an extraordinary person, and because of that, she will always live on in our memories,” eighth grader Kailey Garcia said.
Former principal Glory Page gave a speech about the history of Cabrillo. The middle school had been Ventura High School and Ventura College until the 1950s, when it was destroyed by an accidental fire and reconstructed as Cabrillo Middle School.
The middle schoolers sat in fascination as she told them about how the band building used to be the girls’ gym. The fabled “swimming pool” on the roof was actually the girls’ physical education court, Page said.
“Today we are writing a page in the history of Cabrillo. We are commemorating one of our exceptional, outstanding teachers with this beautiful little area,” Page said. “We don’t just do this for anybody. This is for somebody special.”
“You knew right away, she was different from other people. When you met her, you could just feel that she was so authentic,” Page said. “People were just drawn to her naturally.”
Ventura Unified School District Superintendent Michael Babb was also present at the ceremony and shared a few words. His own son had had Morningstar as a teacher.
“It’s beautiful that we’re able to come here with the sea breeze and […] wonderful music and all gather together to pay tribute to a teacher who was very, very special to us all,” Babb said.
Afterward, retired counselor Connie Rodgers-Lantrip and retired teacher Wendy Zirbel shared their memories of Morningstar.
“In those days, the 6th graders were on teams, and our team was called the Argonauts team,” Zirbel said. “Although privately Ms. Morningstar and I called ourselves the ‘Mom team’ because we always thought of our students as being our children.”
“I know that if you were lucky enough to have Ms. Morningstar as your teacher, you remember her for her enthusiasm and her dedication and her passion for learning,” Zirbel said.
To honor Morningstar, Rodgers-Lantrip encouraged students to reach out with “kindness and respect” to other students.
“She was just so thankful and grateful. Several people have mentioned this area, and it is a beautiful area,” Rodgers-Lantrip said. “What I’d like to do is I’d like to challenge you. When you sit in that area with your group, your group that you’re so happy to have, […] that you look out and if you see someone, that you invite them in. She would just love that.”
A series of current Cabrillo eighth graders also shared memories of Morningstar.
“I remember when she told us that she never used a hair-dryer, that she’d always rather stand in the wind,” eighth grader Alexis Moncada said.
Another student, Molly Hammer, remembers her as a dynamic and fun teacher.
“Ms. Morningstar made us laugh when she popped out from behind her desk with a big black robe on and a fake mustache on her face,” Hammer said. “She took a foam baseball bat and walked around the room slapping it on our desks to show what the Chinese judges did.”
Others, like Joey Smith, remembered her distinctive penmanship and artwork.
“She cared so much about all of her students. I remember the thank-you notes she’d give us, with her own artwork on them. They’d always make me smile,” Smith said.
Eighth graders Kailey Garcia and Duffy Anderson laughed as Garcia recalled her first day of school, where the students were handed misprinted planners for “Cabillo Middle School” instead of “Cabrillo.”
“You already loved her as a person, and then you thought about how she taught. She found a way to make everything interesting,” Anderson said.
James Schulfer, a junior at Ventura High School, had Morningstar for Social Studies and Speech as a 6th grader.
“I hope […] that other students who didn’t have a chance to have her will get to figure out who she is and she’ll be remembered,” Schulfer said.
The new sitting area was donated by Lupe Pardue and her family, although her daughter, Isabella Pardue, never had Morningstar as a teacher, and was constructed by Almanza nursery.
At the end of the ceremony, to the sound of the Cabrillo Wind Ensemble’s On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss, monarch butterflies were released.
“One of the monarch butterflies flew onto the podium,” Page said. “Isn’t that weird? It’s like she was here.”
Background Photo Credit: Chloey Settles/The Foothill Dragon Press