When Denise Cogo started teaching kindergarten at Parkview Elementary School in Columbia in the fall of 1998, she took over for Linda Schmersahl, who was on maternity leave.
Cogo did not know if she would have a job the next year when Schmersahl came back, but the district kept growing so she remained at Parkview, teaching alongside Schmersahl for 22 years.
“Here I am 22 years later retiring with Linda,” Cogo said.
Cogo began teaching in Elmwood in 1982 after graduating from Illinois State University.
She taught remedial reading there for two years before getting married and moving to St. Louis, where she then taught at a daycare and within the St. Louis Archdiocese for 12 years.
Cogo and her husband, Keith, moved to Columbia when their son, Brett, was 4. She volunteered in her son’s kindergarten classroom at Parkview and realized she wanted to work there.
“I volunteered in the classroom, got involved in the PTA and loved the atmosphere,” Cogo recounted. “(It was) kind, caring, hands-on and (had) a positive sense of community and great leadership. I remember telling friends, ‘I want to teach in that school someday.’”
In addition to teaching kindergarten, Cogo has also worked in Columbia’s afterschool program, which she said she enjoyed because she got to know the students better and have fun with them. She also created the school’s yearbook for a few years.
Throughout her over two decades in Columbia, Cogo said she enjoyed her students and colleagues.
“(I love) the excitement on my kiddos’ faces when they learn something new – just their pure, innocent, daily excitement – (and) making lifelong friends who are colleagues, other PTA moms, my son’s teachers or parents from my classroom,” Cogo said.
That made the last quarter of her final school year particularly difficult, as the coronavirus pandemic robbed Cogo of much of her cherished interaction.
To make matters worse, she is not especially comfortable with technology.
“Communicating through a screen was very difficult in the beginning,” Cogo explained. “I relied on my kindergarten team for help in sending weekly plans, setting up a YouTube account and then asked my parents to be patient with me. I soon learned how to download websites, send group emails and even filmed over 70 videos for YouTube that my kindergartners could watch when convenient.”
Although she will not be there, Cogo said she hopes students can return to school in the fall because “peer interaction/dialogue/sharing is what is needed and cannot be taught through a screen.”
While she will miss that, Cogo said she and Schmersahl have been planning to retire this year since at least four years ago when they went together to set up their retirement.
“I always said, ‘when Linda goes, I go,” Cogo said. “We have taught side-by-side for 20 years. You get to know someone and rely on that support over that period of time.”
Now she is retired, Cogo does not have specific plans but said she will not be a “clock watcher in 30-minute intervals.”
Rather, she aims to “continue to be creative when I want, how I want and with friends I have made through the years. “
She also expressed gratitude to those who helped her have a “rewarding” and “blessed” career.
“My heartfelt thanks to each and everyone for allowing me to be a part of so many families through the years,” Cogo said.