WORTHINGTON ― Joining the Worthington High School class of 2020, a WHS teacher will leave high school behind next week as she transitions into retirement.

Ellen Baker-Merrigan has been teaching biology at WHS for the last 27 years ― nearly her whole career.

Baker-Merrigan, a native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, first spent three years teaching in Deadwood, South Dakota, but she and her late husband, an elementary teacher, wanted to be a little closer to home. They found jobs with District 518 and never looked back.

With bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and English and a master’s in education, Baker-Merrigan finished up a couple remaining life science classes during her first couple of years at WHS.

After nearly three decades, Baker-Merrigan said she loves that biology is so practical for everyday life.

“It applies everywhere from the garden to the bird feeder,” she said.

Teaching has given Baker-Merrigan a sense of personal satisfaction.

“My favorite part is the excitement of seeing the kids succeed,” she said.

The biology teacher also had the unique experience of watching her own kids grow up through District 518, getting a special look into their lives and they into hers. While she got to know her kids’ friends more personally, her children got to watch her in action ― particularly the younger son, who actually had her as a teacher.

Baker-Merrigan’s younger son graduates this year, and the older is home from college temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re so aware that we’ll never have time like this together again,” the teacher explained, noting that she and her boys love cooking together and spending time with each other.

The novel coronavirus has made Baker-Merrigan’s final term in the classroom very different from what she expected.

“What a strange experience it has been to look at that Zoom screen” for both classroom instruction and faculty meetings, she said.

As with many retirees, Baker-Merrigan has mixed emotions about her departure. While she looks forward to retirement, she will also miss her students.

Before the pandemic, Baker-Merrigan would have said that she plans to travel and to spend time with lifelong friends, but those plans have become yet another casualty of COVID-19. Until the danger lifts, Baker-Merrigan hopes to practice some of her myriad hobbies: artwork, ukelele, and gardening and reading, to name a few.

Either way, “I’m planning to get busy,” she said, excited to have a little more flexibility in her life.