Everyday Heroics in the Public Schools


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  "Our public schools are remarkable places where dedicated public servants give the gift of joy and hope for a bright future. Personally, I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work in the public schools for 27 years."


tories of school staff and community members performing acts of dedication, bravery and extreme kindness to students and their families warm hearts on chilly winter nights. I have a few of these tales to share with you right in the midst of holiday celebrations.

Recently, I was driving on Soquel Drive near Cabrillo College in the early morning, when I noticed a red traffic light in a place I wasn't expecting one, in front of the fire station. In my rear-view mirror I saw a car speeding in the lane next to me. It occurred to me that a fire truck was about to pull out as I slowed down preparing to stop.

The car in the next lane was not slowing down. I noticed a small stop sign waving. At that point I realized that the light indicated a school crosswalk and that the car was about to run the red light. Mar Vista Elementary, hidden from view, is behind the fire station. Just then, a mother and child stepped into the crosswalk. The crossing guard wielded the small stop sign like a shield with one hand as she reached out to the mother and child, pulling them back towards the curb. The car then braked, entering the crosswalk, and stopped abruptly.

I saw the look of anguish change to relief on the crossing guard's face. The mother and child seemed unaware of what had almost happened. I was stricken by how the work of a crossing guard is one of the most important jobs, one in which a moment's lapse in vigilance could make the difference between a nice day and a horrible disaster.

Bravo to the unsung hero, the crossing guard! Thank you for your vigilance.

A friend of mine teaches learning-handicapped students who are also English Language Learners. She does her job during the school day with the skill of a seasoned teacher. She prepares her lessons thoroughly assuring that the students turn out a product, a bound book of each student's creative writing proofed many times and done in word processing by the students. The writing is accompanied by art and photos of the work in progress. I imagine those books will be saved until the children's children can read them.

Then, at least once a year she gathers up her students on the weekend and takes them to the Watsonville Airport to participate in the Kids Fly for Free program. This year she made a video of the weekend outing and showed it to the entire school. At Christmas time, she somehow acquires tickets to the Nutcracker Ballet and drives into the poorest neighborhoods rounding up the kids. She told me once how she had driven from house to house looking for a single boy who had forgotten about the ballet.

Bravo to the unsung hero, the resource specialist! Your students love you.

And then there is the inspiration of students, some who have probably never traveled out of state, who got to fly to Florida and participated in the thrill of a lifetime. The Watsonville High School boys' soccer team has won our hearts and filled us with pride. I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the Watsonville City Council meeting at which the donation bidding war happened, in an effort to help sponsor that trip. The coach and two young men, soccer players, spoke to the Council about the talented, dedicated players and the fact that they were rated number one in the nation.

Our civic leaders, the seven council members, reached into their own pockets and gave generously to make those young men's dream a reality. Many of us in the community also chipped in. Truly our community wants to provide opportunities for our youth to develop their talents and pursue their dreams.

Bravo to the community and to our civic leaders. You and the team have made us proud!

Our public schools are remarkable places where dedicated public servants give the gift of joy and hope for a bright future. Sometimes it is the joy of learning. Sometimes the thrill of a soccer goal. Sometimes an awesome bird's eye view of Watsonville from high in the sky. Sometimes it is the gift of vigilance, a pat on the back, a word of encouragement. Personally, I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work in the public schools for 27 years. There is nothing I would rather have been doing!

Sandra Nichols is past president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 19,000 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with the Santa Cruz City School District, and served on the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

To learn more about Sandra Nichols, log on to: MeetSandra.com

© Sandra Nichols 2004