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Posted February 8, 2011

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Petroglyph Kindergarten Teacher Skypes Sick Student

Outreach Effort Earns Nancy Leffler Teacher of the Month Recognition

APS/Pepsi Teacher of the Month, Nancy Leffler, in her classroom.

Any veteran teacher will tell you that sometimes a class just gels. The kids all get along. There are no cliques, few conflicts. There’s a sense of family.

That’s what Nancy Leffler’s kindergarten class at Petroglyph Elementary is like this year. “From the first day of school, every child got along,” she said. So when one of her 21 students was diagnosed with leukemia a few months ago, the illness threatened to tear apart her school family.

Leffler, who has been named the Teacher of the Month by the APS Education Foundation and Pepsi, was determined to hold it together.

She started by talking honestly with her young students about the illness that was keeping 5-year-old Grace Davis from attending class. She assured the kids that they couldn’t catch what Grace had, but that Grace was more susceptible to whatever they had, which is why she couldn’t go to school.

Leffler showed the kids an age-appropriate video about leukemia. She let them ask questions and express fears. She even used everyday incidents – like the time the students teased a classmate’s haircut – to tie back to Grace and the need for tolerance and acceptance.

Still, Grace wasn’t in school. That bothered Leffler, who said the 5-year-old was a very bright child who needed, more than anything, social interaction.

So Leffler came up with the idea of communicating with Grace using a laptop computer, speakers, a web camera and a free program called Skype that allows people to communicate live over the Internet. Her own children used a web cam to communicate with their cousins halfway across the country. Why couldn’t her students stay in touch with Grace while she was in the hospital or at home recovering?

Leffler sought the help of Petroglyph technology coordinator Tia Turner, who set up the equipment and the Skype account. She also worked with Grace’s parents to make sure they had what they needed on their end to keep the communication going, and with educational assistant Joyce Silva on getting the family the same materials the kids in class had to complete projects.   This involves lots of planning, but Leffler, who’s been teaching for 21 years, said she’s willing to go the extra mile to help one of her students.

Now Grace “goes” to school most days, joining her classmates in communities, participating in calendar time, reading, writing, working with math manipulatives and even playing with the other students.

The students “take Grace” with them as they move through the class. Recently, they took her along on a trip to the space station (well, a play area in the classroom where the kids pretend they’re manning the space station).

Leffler’s dedication to students like Grace is one reason she was recognized as Teacher of the Month by Pepsi and the APS Education Foundation. Each month, an APS teacher is recognized for his or her outstanding contribution to the classroom, school and community. The Foundation randomly selects one APS school each month, and that school’s principal is asked to choose a teacher to be honored. The teachers receive a $50 check from Pepsi and acknowledgement on the APS website and Facebook page.

“Mrs. Leffler is an amazing, dedicated and very caring teacher,” said Petroglyph Principal  Francesca Ver Ploegh. “Usually, in cases like Grace’s, the teacher prepared work for a child week by week and the parent comes to pick it up. However, Mrs. Leffler is using technology to include this student.  I truly believe it is teachers like this who make a difference for a child that they will never forget.”

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