By: Emma Kolick.
Once a semester, the Crystal Starfish award is bestowed upon two members of North Royalton City Schools’ staff who exemplify the traits that are most valued in our district’s community. In addition to the attributes of perseverance, kindness, patience and genuine concern for the welfare of their students, their altruistic disposition has served to enhance the lives of the individuals entrusted to their care. Mrs. Vance, North Royalton High School’s intervention specialist and one of the recipients of the first semester Crystal Starfish award, has dedicated the last nineteen years to the betterment of the learning experience of countless special education students. However, despite nearly two decades of passionate service towards those with special needs, this career choice was not solidified until later on in her college years.
“There were different professions I had thought about, but since I was really young, I always played school at home in my basement. My parents found notes that I wrote about my fictitious students, but I never thought about special education. Finally, though, in my college years, my sister suggested it, and I loved it and now it has kind of morphed into what it is,” Mrs. Vance said with a smile.
Though she contemplated nursing and veterinary medicine as potential careers, she ultimately decided upon a double major in elementary and special education. Following her graduation from Bowling Green State University, she married her husband who was later relocated to Georgia. As her husband’s move to Georgia was imperative due to his work as an engineer, she chose to relocate with him and subsequently had two children.
While she eventually moved back to the suburbs of Cleveland, she believes her family has accompanied her through nearly everything in life and has been her primary support system through difficult times. However, the majority of her life has been filled with love and happiness, especially the moment when she received the Crystal Starfish award.
“Mr. Gurka [Superintendent of North Royalton City Schools] walked into my classroom, and I immediately thought to myself, ‘I’m in trouble again,’ and I started to wonder if I had done anything recently,” she said with a laugh. “Then, I saw my parents walk in, and that’s when I knew something crazy was going on. And then I saw my husband and my son walk in, and I went over to them and I greeted them and I hugged them, and I whispered to my husband, ‘Am I being fired?’”
Shortly after her husband reassured her she wouldn’t be fired, she was presented the Crystal Starfish award, along with a $250 professional development grant and a bouquet of flowers. While this award was a great honor and represents the commitment and dedication she has exhibited at both the high school and elementary schools, she believes over nineteen years, the accumulation of the triumphs and victories of her past and current students has been the utmost important gift she could receive.
Nevertheless, being an intervention specialist comes with exceedingly difficult challenges. Although Mrs. Vance’s students have numerous disabilities, these in no way define who they are, as the vast majority of her students are filled with immeasurable promise and potential, regardless of their physical capabilities.
While the North Royalton City School District is an exceptionally accepting and welcoming community, it can be extremely laborious attempting to make sure Mrs. Vance’s students feel embraced by the entire student body. Regardless of whether or not the entire student body is open to accepting special education students, she feels the rewards and benefits of her work outweigh any difficulties that come along with her job and thinks her work has influenced her to become a better person.
“I think I’ve become more patient, accepting and open-minded. My job has forced me to work better with people. I will fight for what I think is right for them [her students], and I definitely get more emotionally attached to my students,” Mrs. Vance said considerately. “I also think each of my students leaves me with something that helps me in the future. They don’t realize that they teach me.”
Educationally, she believes her students have greatly impacted her life, along with her personal life, in which she has two children of her own who attend college. Her husband is also there to accompany her through nearly everything, as they regularly spend time together as a family.
Along with spending time with her friends and family, she habitually gardens, attempts to complete puzzles and has been a diehard Cleveland sports fan since she was young. Though her personal life is filled with contentment and enjoyment, she believes her work brings her just as much happiness.
As a recipient of the Crystal Starfish award and an intervention specialist, Mrs. Vance has made overwhelmingly positive impacts on our community and has done nothing except better her past and current students. While being a special education teacher comes with countless challenges, she firmly believes in each and every one of her students, saying, “Their victories, I think of as my victories, and their challenges are my challenges.”
Emma Kolick is currently a freshman at North Royalton High School. She is involved in numerous clubs such as student council, Key Club, Spanish Club, Fish Club, and STAND. She is also a member of the girls track team. Outside of school she enjoys yoga, spending time with her friends, reading and writing. After high school, she plans to attend college and possibly pursue a career in education and journalism.