Bim Cleland is one of the first teachers to arrive at Trinity School in Menlo Park, getting there at 7:30 a.m., before the school day begins. He's out on the schoolyard greeting students and organizing athletic activities.
The daily scenario exemplifies how Cleland, 64, "wears many hats and wears them expertly" at the school, said Trinity Principal Matt Allio. He follows his daily early morning activities with classroom duties as a first grade teaching assistant, using art and mathematics in his lessons. And, he's also a PE teacher.
"Many people at this stage in their career pick and choose, but he chooses everything, and does everything well," said Allio. "He's a role model for all kids. All the things he does are powerful for kids. He's a mix between being fun (and) always being in good spirits, with really strong expectations for kids. … I don't know where else you can find a PE, art and math teacher."
Cleland, whom students simply call "Mr. C," joined the Trinity staff in 2000, and his rapport with kids on the playground and in the classroom is such that former students return to the school to visit with him.
Cleland, who bikes to campus from his Woodside home each morning, received his bachelor's degree in art therapy at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, and brings his love of art and nature photography to his job at Trinity.
For years, he has created greeting cards for his fellow teachers, school officials said. The cards feature sketches based on his nature photographs.
Cleland incorporates his own love of painting and close-up photos of flowers and insects into his art lessons with students.
"I always have a camera in my car or on my bike with me," he said. "I always want to stop to take a photo of an oak tree in the Horse Park on the way to work."
Cleland is the assistant for teacher Linda Rutherford's class. He teaches the first graders math in the mornings, incorporating students' names into word problems. Cleland said the word problems let students work with numbers in a different format. The problems include photos he takes, so students can observe shapes and numbers in real-life scenarios, he said.
"He brings it (math) to life and makes it engaging," Rutherford said. "At this age (the kids) all love themselves, so it speaks to their egos. … He helps to make (math) shine a bit more."
A number of years ago, Cleland also decided to put together a book of math problems for the school's first graders to supplement their math learning. He creates the cover art for the book as well.
Cleland said he has stayed at Trinity for the past couple of decades because it's a school where professional development is encouraged.
"What I do bring to the school is valued and very appreciated," he said, noting that he likes education that is progressive but holds on to traditions that really work, which, he says, Trinity does. He strives to teach the "whole child," and families come to Trinity to receive that type of education, he said.
Trinity fifth grader Lucas said Cleland is "super creative and funny, and goes out of his way to make up new games" during PE classes. For example, Cleland created "capture the aliens" -- a game of tag in which some students play extraterrestrials and others play humans, Lucas said.
Cleland said he tries to help students develop motor skills -- the ability to sense what one's muscles are doing as they perform the act -- during PE classes.
"He's a lot of people's favorite teacher because he's always going around and helping make problems better where he sees them," Lucas said.
Cleland has such an impact on students that when he retires, there will be a shift in the Trinity School community, Rutherford said.
"He's the rock star of the school," she said. "Every student knows him and he knows every child."