Saturday, December 5, 2015

People Who Inspire

Within a school community, there are always "stories."  You know, stories of people that you teach with that have this incredible, sometimes surprising, life outside of school and although it's something totally outside of the school day, it impacts you - often affecting your heart the most.  These are not perfect people with perfect lives but imperfect people who take the hand that they have been dealt and make a conscious decision to play that hand to the best of their ability. We have those kinds of insprational people at Chets.

The first that comes to mind is Elizabeth Conte.  Elizabeth began her teaching career at Chets.  While she was working on a Masters degree in Education she began working at Chets as a para and then walked seamlessly into a teaching position.  She was one of those teachers that just had "the gift," and you knew it as soon as you watched her teach the very first time.  Through the years our school community watched as she fell in love and got married, and then her first child, a son, Charlie, was born.  Soon precious Kate was born.  It was soon apparent that Kate was struggling with some medical issues and to make a long story short, she was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy, which is a rare genetic form of muscular dystrophy. After being initially devastated by the news, Elizabeth and her husband, Dave decided to do something.  They knew that research was the only way to improve Kate's future and so they have dedicated themselves to their foundation, Promise to Kate, that raises money for research and supports our local Children's Hospital, a facility that hosts Kate all too often.  Elizabeth has returned to teaching as a Special Education teacher.  Kate is now a first grader at Chets so their story is a roller coaster ingrained in our everyday life.  When I look at Elizabeth, I see tireless determination and pure inspiration. She doesn't consider herself a hero, but to me, and to so many others, she makes me want to work harder and to be better every single day.
The Conte Family

Then there's Lori Linkous.  Her son Connor grew up at Chets.  Before he came to us he had brain tumors that required surgery and chemotherapy.  Lori was an ever-present parent volunteer as Connor entered school.  She eventually took a job in the front office (if you spend enough time as a volunteer at Chets we eventually figure out that you need a paying position!)  and, as the years went by,  Connor graduated from Chets and now attends college.  Somewhere during those years, Connor was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis (NF) which is a genetically inherited condition that leads to the high possibility of tumor formation. Lori and her husband, Ken, have slowly embraced Connor's diagnosis and have recently begun to sponsored an annual run to raise money for research.  Lori has always been Connor's advocate but now all of the family have become advocates for a better life for people with NF. Watching Lori each day as she worries and then calms those fears to move steadily forward is another role model for living life in the face of an uncertain future.  The Linkous' are such a close knit family and you watch as they depend on each other and stand with hands clasped together to face anything that may come.  They have refused to let their circumstances limit the possibilities and have decided instead to commit themselves to making a difference in the lives of others.
Chets supports Lori and the NF Run to raise money for research.
Then there's Lauren Skipper.  Lauren's story is little different.  Oh, it's the same in the fact that she started her career at Chets.  She was another gifted beginning teacher, always strong and determined.  She did things well from the very first moment she walked through the doors of Chets Creek.  We watched her fall in love, marry, and have two beautiful children.  Her son has now graduated to middle school and her precious daughter remains with us at Chets.  After teaching K-1 for several years, becoming National Board Certified, getting her gifted certification and then dropping back to part-time work, this year she is a stay-at-home mom.  Lauren could just relax, get her nails done and luncheon with friends, but that's not really Lauren's style.  She's a doer, a leader.  She decided to start a "Blessings in a Backpack" program at Chets several years ago, after seeing the need in the families in her class.  Lots of folks think Chets is a "country club" school because a country club is our closest neighbor, but the fact is that almost 30% of our population includes students who are on free and reduced lunch.  In a school of 1300 that means that we have a sizable number of families (a school within a school) who struggle to make ends meet.  The "Blessings-in-a-Backpack" program is meant to tide those students over through the weekend.  A bag of food is sent home each Friday to make sure there is a little extra to eat.  Not only does Lauren make sure there is enough money to buy food or donations of the food itself, but she also makes sure that there are adults to pack and deliver the bags.  She has elicited her own dad and some of his retired friends to help with the packing and delivering.  Lauren reminds me that we can each do something meaningful to make a difference in our school community and that we have a moral responsibility to use our gifts and talents for service.  On a personal basis she inspires me to think about how I can make a difference, not only now, but as I face my own retirement from teaching.
Lauren was recently named CCE "Volunteer of the Year"
So I guess the point of this blog is that if you look around your school. just like mine, you too will find people with such inspiring stories who make our lives better just by being there. And don't think these are the only folks like this at Chets... I could make this a running column because when I look around there are people who are role models for living joyful, courageous, heroic lives everywhere.

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Kk Cherney said...

My friend and mentor, thank you for reminding us why we love so much...I adore this

Anonymous said...

These women are an inspiration in my life too, dayle. Thank you for capturing their contributions so eloquently.

-Karen Morris