Some say you never forget your first teacher.
That first teacher can set the stage for a lifelong love of learning.
Cosette Anne Meerbott understood. The Cutler Bay early education teacher, who died at 50 of colon cancer Sept. 22, knew early on that she wanted to be a teacher. She would tell her husband, Timothy Meerbott, a former council member in Cutler Bay, about setting up her dolls and playing teacher.
Teaching, for Meerbott, was a gift. She maintained contact with many of her students: Pre-K at Colonial Drive Elementary and Westminster Christian School and second grade at Pine Villa Elementary.
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After leaving Westminster, Meerbott turned to her church, Wayside Baptist, and began its children’s ministry program about eight years ago.
“She introduced me to these Bob Books, and those books helped me learn to read,” said Maia Figueroa, 9, a fourth-grader at Westminster. Six years ago, at age 3, Maia had Mrs. Meerbott for Pre-K at the Palmetto Bay school.
“I remember she was always very nice to me, and she wasn’t one of those strict teachers — she was a first teacher, and you wouldn’t want a strict teacher then or you would have a bad impression of the whole school,” Maia said.
Maia remembers classes under Meerbott’s tutelage.
“We did a lot of stuff in that grade and a lot of projects,” she said. Fun things like dirt day — to learn about the environment. Instead of mud, Meerbott used chocolate pudding. Instead of dirt, crushed Oreos.
“I was a teacher for 13 years, and I could tell when a teacher really cared,” said Maia’s mother, Jeanny Figueroa. “She’s my baby and, at 3, for her to say to me, ‘Mom, you have to leave,’ she felt loved. She felt welcomed, happy where she was. She wanted to go to school. Mrs. Meerbott instilled in her that love for learning.
“My daughter tells me to this day she hates summers,” Figueroa said. “The beginning of school and your first teacher has a lot to do with how you see school in the future. She was in a place with a teacher who loved her and helped her and encouraged her, and there’s a special place in my heart for her. Even after she left Westminster, we became good friends and she saw Maia growing up.”
Meerbott, born in Sturgis, Mich., on Dec. 4, 1964, earned her bachelor’s degree at Florida International University and master’s in education from the University of Miami. She raised two sons, Lance and Kyle, with her husband of 27 years, and the couple helped raise two foster children. “One of the boys was crying, ‘If it wasn’t for you guys, we wouldn’t know what a family was,’ ” Timothy Meerbott said.
“Whenever I saw Mrs. Meerbott, I saw a light,” added Figueroa. “You could see her love for God. You’d see it in her face and you couldn’t help but smile.”
In addition to her husband and sons, Meerbott is survived by her mother, Garland Fieblekorn. A visitation will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Van Orsdel Kendall Chapel, 11220 N. Kendall Dr. Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Old Cutler Presbyterian Church, 14401 Old Cutler Rd., Palmetto Bay.