John Muir Elementary school honors its “Legends”

John Muir Elementary School will hold its annual “Legends” luncheon on April 22 to honor former teacher Liz Room Garst and after school coordinator Troy Thompson.

John Muir Elementary School is to honor its "legends'. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

By Marilee Enge

A teacher whose creativity and heart in the tense early days of forced integration won her lifelong devotion from her students, and a childcare provider known for riding his BMX bike headlong through the neighborhood and for leading a treasured afterschool program, will be honored as Legends by John Muir Elementary School at a luncheon on Sunday.

Faced with budget cuts that threatened to eliminate physical education, a group of John Muir parents organized the Legends Luncheon in 2008 to raise money to pay for PE. Since then, the event has become an annual one, with the added goal of connecting with alumni as the John Muir community prepares to celebrate the school’s centennial in 2017. This year’s event, which is on Sunday April 22,  is made possible by a generous grant from The Grubb Co.

The 2012 honorees represent John Muir’s long commitment to diversity. As a young teacher in 1969, Liz Room was faced with the challenge of making sure all her students excelled. With students who represented the extremes: wealthy white kids from the hills and black, often poorer kids bused in from the flatlands, she sought permission to form an experimental class that would move together from kindergarten through 3rd grade. Her students have said the bonds built in her classroom were so strong, they felt like a big family and remain friends today. Room, now Elisabeth Garst, was chosen as a John Muir Legend for her commitment to the dream of inclusive public education.


Troy Thompson, who has run Kids in Motion for nearly 25 years, often astride his bike and with a big grin on his face, is also being honored by the PTA. Close to 1,000 students have spent time at Kids in Motion, where they end their school day by climbing trees, riding bikes, kicking soccer balls and learning to play fair and treat one another with respect. Though he’s not a school employee, the PTA said Thompson has worked on the campus longer than anyone and his dedication to the children makes him a John Muir legend.

The Legends Lunch provides funds for physical education and after-school enrichment for students in Kindergarten through 5th grade. John Muir contracts with PlayWorks, an Oakland-based non-profit, to provide in-class PE and organized play at recess.

With 240 students, John Muir is Berkeley’s smallest elementary school and has a long history of community support. It is housed in an architecturally significant Arts and Crafts schoolhouse that was slated for demolition in the 1970s, when the community rallied to preserve it. Sunday’s Luncheon will be held in the school’s historic auditorium. Tickets are $50. John Muir Elementary is located at 2955 Claremont Ave., in Berkeley.

Marilee Enge is the parent of two daughters at John Muir. She works for Heyday Books.

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, visit Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.