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3 educators from LaBrae nominated as LifeChangers

LEAVITTSBURG — Six area educators, including three from LaBrae, have been nominated for the 2021-22 National LifeChanger of the Year award.

LifeChanger of the Year receives hundreds of nominations from all 50 states and the District of Columbia each school year. During the 2021-22 school year, 18 individual LifeChanger of the Year awards will be given.

Fifty-six nominees are from Ohio. LifeChanger of the Year recognizes and rewards the best K-12 educators and school district employees across the United States who are making a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership, according to its website.

Winners are chosen by a selection committee comprised of former winners and education professionals, and will be announced early this year. Nominees must be K-12 teachers or school district employees, making them each eligible to receive one of 17 cash prizes up to $10,000 to share with their schools or the district.

• Stacey Biery, library aide at Bascom Elementary School, was nominated by Courtney Cowhick, a parent of a student.

Cowhick said Biery is a constant in her students’ lives.

“Two of Mrs. Biery’s favorite phrases that she tells me quite often are, ‘I love my job. I am extremely lucky and blessed,’ and ‘My job is to help children love books and reading,’” Cowhick said.

“I think LaBrae is truly the lucky party. We have an elementary library aide who not only loves her students and community, but is a prime example of what a teacher and educator should be today, tomorrow and yesterday. We are so blessed to have someone so dedicated to the moral, physical, mental, and emotional well-being of her students.”

• Christine Meeks, a third-grade teacher at LaBrae Intermediate School, was nominated by an anonymous member of the community. Meeks’ nominator said she has a smile that lights up a room, a cafeteria and any assembly.

“Christine has been a staple of the community for more than 25 years. She was recently selected by one of the senior football players as his all-time favorite educator. Christine is what teachers should be in so many ways, and our community is dreading the day she decides to retire,” her nominator said.

• Elisabeth Paster, a science teacher at LaBrae High School, was nominated by one of her former students, Timothy Perry.

Perry said Paster “was always there for every student.”

“I don’t think I would be where I am today without her,” he said. “She pushed me through high school to ensure I made it to college. She always made sure her students not only had a place to sit at lunch, but that they had a lunch sitting in front of them, whether it meant buying it for them or giving up her own lunch so they could eat. She is my inspiration to always fight for everyone and help them. Ms. Paster always listened to kids and helped them through tough times.”

• Lindsey Ison, a cafeteria supervisor at Fairhaven School in Niles, was nominated by her principal, Sandra Kernen. Since her first year, she has been chasing down grant funding and discovering ways to educate students, staff, and families about healthy eating. However, she manages to do it in fun ways, such as having Olaf visit classrooms during lunch time to share the benefits of carrots, or having Moana share fruit and dance moves to keep students moving and healthy.

All of the students in the Fairhaven program have disabilities and includes grades K-12, as well as integrated preschool classes (120 students). This year, with the added challenges of COVID-19, Ison secured grants to ensure each student in the program receives free lunches for the next four years, and worked to create a Backpack Program, which required $30,000 in funding.

Ison also was selected as a 2020-21 LifeChanger of the Year Grand Prize Finalist and received a $5,000 cash prize to share with her school. Since then, she has used the funds to expand the school backpack program, begin a farm-to-table program, and start a studen-driven composting program. She’s now looking to obtain funds for a school greenhouse to begin a student-led program. She also is on this year’s selection committee.

• Barb Meyer, pre-nursing phlebotomy instructor at Trumbull Career and Technical Center, was nominated by an anonymous former student.

Every time a student leaves their “home” school to attend a technical school, a layer of uncertainty follows: What if I fail, or no one likes me? What if it would’ve been better to stay in what was comfortable?

Meyer has made it her mission to make successful nurses out of her students, her nominator said.

“Oftentimes, she referenced how most of us were most likely born in her care, as she was a labor and delivery nurse at St. Joseph Warren Hospital,” said the student. “I think this immediately provides a sense of comfort to her students. It’s astounding that the same person who delivered us could be seeing us grow up and turn into successful students.”

• Courtney Kelly, public safety fire instructor at Choffin Career and Technical Center in Youngstown, was nominated by colleague Kristy Olinik.

Looking for an instructor to bring hope to low-income students and get their respect for understanding them was not easy. When kids see no future, it’s hard to get them to believe that there is a present.

“The beginning of the program was challenging. The instructors weren’t bad, but they did not bring the fire that I needed to the students,” Olinik said. “Courtney came in the third year, and I knew she would make the best choice. I just needed to get her on board with it. It was the quickest conversation ever, and since then, I would have no other instructor next to me. She is stubborn, and she’s so driven that you are almost afraid to let her down. She treats these kids like they are her own, and that takes a special kind of person. In two years, her effortless positivity and selflessness brought our program to all students passing state certification for national registry.”

Kelly has helped numerous students get into post-secondary education training and into hands-on careers in the surrounding fire departments. She has employed students who have left her class and goes above and beyond to make sure they succeed outside of school. She uses her connections in the city to place students in volunteer fire departments with pay and EMT classes. She also assists students with getting into colleges and jobs that may not be related to her class, according to Olinik.

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