By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Aide retiring after 35 years
To say DeAnna Whitehead, a preschool instructional aide at Don Pedro Elementary School, will be missed is an understatement.

"She's my right hand - I depend on her so much," noted preschool teacher Monica Lara.

After 35 years of working with children in Ceres Unified schools, Whitehead is retiring next month. She's decided it's time to pursue things like traveling, exercising, line dancing and summer gardening."

"I'm a very busy person," said the amiable Whitehead. "I'm very active."

Former students and their parents are invited to come by and help DeAnna celebrate her retirement from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3 at the Don Pedro Elementary School cafeteria.

CUSD hired Whitehead, a native of San Lorenzo, in 1976 to work with second- and third-graders at Carroll Fowler Elementary School. She moved over to Don Pedro Elementary School 22 years ago. Approximately 1,300 students have benefitted from her instruction and grandmotherly ways over nearly four decades. Among them are Modesto radio station Jim Wells and Sheriff's deputy Buck Condit whom she's known since third grade.

"She's very sweet," said Milinda Ortiz, who has worked with DeAnna as a parent and fellow paraprofessional. "She makes sure everybody is comfortable, happy, understands. She keeps contact with you."

Lara said many of her preschoolers affectionately call DeAnna "Grandma" because she is so loving and always hugging.

"When kids have a hard time transitioning, they go straight to her and she comforts them," said Lara. "I'm going to miss that about her. She shows a lot of empathy."

Whitehead bristles when people assume that all she does is play with the kids.

"We do everything with the kids, as far as learning their letters and colors. It's not play. A lot of people think we're babysitting but we're not. They have to learn so much stuff before they go on to kindergarten."

Preschoolers have proven to be her favorite grade level.

"They're so open and cute. Just look at them. I mean, you can hug them and they're so loving. They all have their own personalities."

Whitehead said has been a growing percentage of non-English speakers in her classes. "They're so little they wind up learning really fast," said Whitehead "They're here and exposed to it and they're not at home. We have a lot of parents who don't speak English."

Whitehead always encounters ex students when she's out and about. Some of them are now in their 40s. At a recent Street Faire, she remembers lots of ex students telling her hi,. which prompted her grandson to say, "You know everyone."

Recently she tapped the shoulder of a former student who just graduated from high school. DeAnna remembers hugging him until he woke up in the mornings. He appreciated the contact and later sent a Facebook message stating he almost cried when she reached out to him.