"Granny is a beam of light, this gentle strength and warmth that emanates from her at all times," Principal W.J. O'Reilly says
Credit: Courtesy Heather Martino / The74Million.org

Meet Granny – at 102, she is America’s oldest – and most adorable – schoolteacher.

Agnes Zhelesnik, affectionately referred to by her preschool and elementary-aged pupils as “Granny,” has been teaching sewing and cooking classes at The Sundance School in North Plainfield, New Jersey, since she was 80.

“In school here they call me granny, and I’m just a natural granny. I know that they love me!” the affectionate educator, who celebrates her 102nd birthday Tuesday, tells The 74 Million.

Zhelesnik, who hand-sews aprons for all of her students, guarantees that some of her basic cooking and sewing tips will stay with her kids as they get older.

“This is something that they’re going to use for the rest of their lives. They’re not going to have it just for today. You’ll be surprised how they are going to remember it when they get older,” she says to The 74 Million.

Although many elementary schools and middle schools have taken home economics out of their curriculums, the school’s principal W.J. O’Reilly says it’s important to teach kids practical things like sewing and cooking “in these times.”

“Granny is a beam of light, this gentle strength and warmth that emanates from her at all times. We have this incredible opportunity to be in her presence and to be able to learn from her,” he tells the news site.

O’Reilly adds that Zhelesnik herself is an inspiration and a lesson in humility and love.

“There are messages in education. When I see her at nearly 102 with 3-year-olds and interacting in this way, I can’t even begin to understand the profundity of that kind of interaction,” he says.

The beloved schoolteacher, who is driven to work every day by her daughter Agnes, recalls growing up in a simpler time, with less technological burden.

“When I was a young girl, school was different – completely different,” Zhelesnik tells The 74 Million with a laugh. “We didn’t have the equipment they have today – computers, television, cameras. We didn’t even have an inside toilet!”

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The loving educator adds, “When I was growing up it was a different life.”

Zhelesnik, who doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon, says the secret to living a long, fulfilled life is very easy: “Just be happy with what you’re doing! My favorite part of teaching here is taking care of the children.”

Go, Granny!