you didn't know your way around Gardnerville Elementary School, the first day of kindergarten could be daunting. If you forgot where the kindergarten entrance was, you walked in the big doors by the cafeteria, past the principal's office.
If you were only 3 feet tall, it looked like "the Green Mile."
It seemed like everybody was bigger than you as you made your way down a long hallway past first grade, second grade, third grade, past the nurse's office and the teacher's lounge.
There were plenty of people to help, but you only recognized one face.
What a relief.
Waiting to welcome you in the kindergarten corner at the end of the hallway was Alice in Wonderland.
With her long blond hair and bright smile, that's what Phyllis Robison looked like to a lot of very little children on their first day of school.
But Mrs. Robison was no character out of a fairy tale. She was a teacher. For 20 years, she introduced kindergartners to the wonders of school. Whether they had cut their teeth in preschool or daycare or were first-timers away from home, her classroom at the end of the hallway in Gardnerville Elementary School was a sanctuary. In her bright and busy room, children learned many wonderful things - to read and count, to write stories, and sing songs. But the most important lesson Mrs. Robison taught her little students was to believe in themselves as she believed in them.
Mrs. Robison was plain spoken. A casual observer might suggest she ran a strict, no-nonsense classroom, but that's not entirely accurate. Phyllis Robison knew that kindergartners are full of nonsense and she channeled that energy into positive learning experiences.
Even after her cancer forced her out of the classroom, Mrs. Robison continued to teach by example.
She never, ever gave up, enduring rigorous treatment until she died last Wednesday at the age of 48. Her friends and family gathered Monday at the Carson Valley United Methodist Church to honor her memory and mourn her passing.
How fortunate we are that she lives on in the hundreds of children she taught over the years and their families who were graced by her steady influence and love of teaching.
It's hard to imagine a school year starting without Mrs. Robison there to calm anxious parents, dry tears, wipe runny noses and revel in the joy of learning.
Each child's triumph was her triumph, too, whether it was mastery of the ABCs or one more paste-encrusted Valentine.
Phyllis Robison had the teacher's gift for making each child feel special. In a time when teachers are leaving the classroom for more lucrative pursuits, she was a stalwart. In Gardnerville Elementary School's tight-knit core of dedicated teachers, Mrs. Robison was a standout.
Before strategic plans and competencies became part of the education lingo, Mrs. Robison had a master plan and a mission statement. She knew the truth about 5- and 6-year-olds: they can do anything. With her love and guidance they knew no bounds.
In June 2000, I was scrambling for a story and on the spur of the moment called and asked if I could interview some of her students about their hopes for first grade. She invited me right over and allowed me to talk with four of the children she had for all-day kindergarten.
She had been ill for nearly two years but unless you knew that, you couldn't tell by her enthusiasm and cheerfulness. This class would be her last before illness forced her out of school in October. But that day Mrs. Robison was optimistic, looking forward to the summer and the next school year.
The two boys and two girls she picked out for me were sweet and squirmy and unanimous in their love for Mrs. Robison.
One little boy was particularly insightful.
"I like Mrs. Robison," he said, "because she is beautiful and because she is like a child."
She was like a child, open to the uniqueness and wonder of each little soul who entered her classroom. For 20 years, Mrs. Robison's room was a safe place to make new friends, to read, to forget things, to learn how to cut with scissors, to have a bad day, to be silly, to celebrate, to learn.
Sheila Gardner is night desk editor at the Nevada Appeal.