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May 10, 2007

Eight-year-old's letter leads to teacher's honor

From: The Gloucester County Times - Woodbury,NJ,USA - May 10, 2007

By Senitra Horbrook

To meet her is to love her.

These words, written by 8-year old Alexis Schauer, describe Schauer's first-grade teacher Diana Voci at Holly Glen Elementary School in Monroe Township.

Voci was recently named one of 10 Delaware Valley Teacher All-Stars. Schauer nominated her teacher for the honor by writing a letter about Voci, a teacher she calls one of her biggest heroes.

"Ms. Voci went over, above and beyond our expectations as a teacher," said Dawn Schauer, Alexis' mother. "She did more and was more involved with Alexis than any of the teachers in the past. She really did a fine job with her."

In her letter, Alexis explained her special situation and how Voci has taken the time to help her.

"See I'm a deaf child who recently got a cochlear implant and I had to repeat the first grade. I was unable to read. I would not answer in class, I was very quiet," the letter said. "Ms. Voci helped me build my spirit and taught me how to read. Now I can't keep my hand down in class."

Alexis provided a unique challenge to Voci, who is in her fourth year of teaching. Earlier this year, Alexis was bullied by a fellow student because of the way she spoke. Her mom suggested she talk to the teacher about it.

"I was very disappointed because we (the class) talked about that when the school year started ... how some people wear glasses, some people can't hear and we should never make fun of someone, we should help them," Voci said.

The "bully" turned out to be a new student.

"We had a family meeting, a sit down talk about the problem," Voci said. "The kids gave different solutions and Alexis was given some ideas. Now they're fine, not the best of friends, but everyone is OK."

Family meetings are part of the school's Character Education Program. Voci holds family meetings whenever a problem arises in her classroom and she tries to help her students find solutions to problems as well as focus on respect for each other and respect for adults.

When the Schauers found out about the Teacher All-Stars, they knew they wanted to nominate Voci. Alexis sat down with her mother, who helped her gather her thoughts.

"We discussed what it was about and what happened throughout this year and that's what we came up with," Dawn Schauer said.

In addition to explaining how Voci helped Alexis learn to read, the letter also described how Voci attended Alexis' soccer games and will now watch her play softball. Dawn Schauer e-mailed Voci a copy of the letter after submitting it, but before finding out she won.

"I was touched," Voci said, describing her reaction after reading the letter. "I was just very thankful that she appreciated what I do for her. She's such a good girl. I love having her in my class."

Voci will be honored Friday night during the Philadelphia Phillies game as part of the Seventh Annual Teacher Appreciation Night at Citizens Bank Park. Voci says she and Alexis have picked out matching Phillies shirts to wear to the game.

The contest asked students and adults to nominate teachers who had an impact on their lives. Contest judges received over 1,000 teacher nominations.

"Ms. Voci is very supportive of my daughter. She's a one in a million teacher," Dawn Schauer said. "I wish there were more teachers like her that care about their students. She's just an awesome teacher."

Four other Gloucester County teachers, all from Washington Township, received Honorable Mentions:

Wayne Johnson, Bunker Hill Middle School, nominated by Andrew Karaszkiewicz
William McCloskey, Bunker Hill Middle School, nominated by Melanie Ranno
Debbie Pracilio, Whitman Elementary, nominated by Michael Ziccardi
Rosalie Rucker, Whitman Elementary, nominated by Laura Snyder

© 2007 Gloucester County Times