EAST COBB — To close out the school year, former and current Mountain View Elementary teachers and students came by the dozens to celebrate and bid farewell to physical education teacher Nancy Janas, a 36-year veteran of teaching.
Janas, described by Principal Renee Garriss as “an icon” of the school, leaves “huge shoes to fill,” Garriss said. That’s why Garriss, Janas and her family chopped a red ribbon Wednesday to christen the newly named Janas Gym at Mountain View.
“Every child felt loved and valued by her,” Garriss told the MDJ. “Most kids love going to gym, but there’s always those reluctant students that don’t like going to gym class, because maybe they’re not athletic. And Nancy always found a way to make them feel accepted and want to be in the gym.”
Janas was twice named Teacher of the Year for Cobb County Schools and was heavily involved in the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope for Heart fundraising program.
Despite the void Janas leaves behind, her close friend and fellow PE teacher Carissa Smith will continue teaching. Smith’s husband is “like a son” to Janas, having grown up across the street from the Janas family. Smith and Janas have taught together for more than 12 years.
“She is amazing, truly inspirational and positive,” Smith said of Janas. “She has made this school and gave it the positive influence it needed.”
Janas came to her profession out of a love for kids and sports. She has taught PE at Mountain View for 24 years, long enough to be known by multiple generations of students.
“The other day I was out here, and a dad came through with two of his boys in the backseat … and (the dad) was one of my students,” Janas said in an interview.
Janas lives in the community — her own children attended Mountain View. The athletic prowess carried over to her son, Stephen, who played baseball at Kennesaw State University, for Atlanta Braves minor league teams and in the Australian Baseball League. Her daughter, Haley, continues the family teaching legacy as a teacher at East Cobb Middle.
The past year of teaching amid the pandemic has been the greatest professional challenge Janas faced in her career. The school gym was closed, field day was canceled and PE teachers had to teach kids in their classrooms, trying to make fitness and games work without equipment. The silver lining of that arrangement, however, was getting to know students on a more personal level, Janas said.
“But the kids were so resilient, they just adapted and handled it well,” Janas said. “They were wonderful. They made it easy.”
In retirement, Janas hopes to play more tennis, hike, travel and be generally spontaneous.
“I’ll pack a bag and set it by the door, and if anybody drives up and opens the door, I’m jumping in,” she said.
Retirement feels surreal to Janas. But she plans to stay involved with the school.
“I think I’m going to be that stalker on the playground when they come out for recess,” Janas joked. “Just waving and saying hello and all that, that’ll be me.”