Alberta Martone is a regular visitor to the Modesto elementary school that bears her name. Monday, this year's newest students got to meet her.
"Why do you think her name is the same name as our school?" Principal Carol Brooks asked about 100 kindergartners sitting crossed-legged at the student of the month assembly.
"Because she owns it," piped up one youngster.
"The school was named before her," said another.
"Because she owns it and she's supposed to be the teacher," said a third.
"It's because our school was named for her," Brooks said. "How special for you that you get to meet the person our school was named for."
"I'm just so proud to be here, and excited, too," Martone told the wide-eyed group. "So many of you got honors today. And the ones that didn't, I bet you will next time."
Martone, 90, said she comes to nearly every assembly. "It's such a joy for me," she said. "I feel so fortunate."
Sitting in the expansive grassy center of the school, she waved back to passing students and reflected on how education has changed since 1948, when she started as a rookie teacher for Modesto City Schools.
"I hate to see testing have the importance it does," she said, adding that good teaching is something you check by watching the class, not "that cold-blooded test."
"The main thing is teaching them to read, making sure they have the skills," Martone said. If they read, "that's half the battle."
That's why when the school threw Martone a 90th birthday party in May, her present to the school was a check to the library.
"That way every child can use it."
The party "was a beautiful day," she said. "Every child made me a birthday card."
Head janitor Emanuel Vásquez sung her a song he composed.
"It said she was a wonderful example, that's the main thing," Vásquez said.
The school was built in 1987, seven years after Martone retired. Learning it would be named for her was another beautiful day.
"I was just stunned, you know. Why me? You feel humble, so happy and surprised, elated," she recalled.
Martone was a teacher for five years, then spent the rest of her 32 years with the district as a principal.
"I always had wonderful teachers -- that's the basics. ... If you have a good staff, it makes you look good," she said with a chuckle.
Martone staff, she added, is "just outstanding."
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.