Students recall teachers’ impact on their lives

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

It’s no secret Dubois County boasts great schools. The county’s four school districts consistently perform well in Indiana’s school evaluation systems, and local economic development leaders use the schools’ successes to attract new talent and businesses.

Many in the county attribute the schools’ success to the teachers, and this is the perfect time to recognize them for their hard work. This week marks the 34th Teacher Appreciation Week since the National Parent Teacher Association established the event on the first full week of May in 1985. The designation of a full week followed Congress’ 1980 declaration of March 7 as National Teacher Appreciation Day.

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, The Herald spoke to local alumni and one current high school senior about the teachers who impacted them most during their schooling in Dubois County.

Dana Kunz, Greater Jasper

Tommy Craven graduated from Jasper High School in 2011, but he still remembers Dana Kunz and the role she had in leading him to his career in film.

Now, Kunz is the transitions coordinator and career counselor at Greater Jasper Schools. But when Craven was in school, Kunz was a business teacher and Business Professionals of America sponsor. Craven first met her his freshman year in the computer applications class. In that class, Kunz saw his interest in filmmaking, and encouraged him to join BPA, which has a video production section.

“I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know,’” Craven recalled. “But she really encouraged me.”

Craven decided to go for it, and through the years, Kunz became a “pillar of support” for him. He’d bring her ideas for films and scripts, and she’d help him develop them. He still remembers the time and effort she put in to help him with his projects.

Kunz also helped develop Craven as a leader. Toward the end of his freshman year, Craven recalled, Kunz pushed him to run for a state officer position with BPA. Again, he followed her advice and ended up getting elected. That led to the two taking several trips all around the U.S. together through the years for various BPA events, and they developed a special bond.

“She really became a second mom to me,” Craven said.

The two got so close that Kunz was the first teacher Craven told when he came out as gay in high school.

“She didn’t even bat an eye,” he said.

Craven remembers Kunz’s support for him during that time in his life, and he’s grateful to her for it.

When it came time to apply for college, Craven turned to Kunz to help him with his applications and essays as he applied to New York University, and she again dedicated a lot of time to him. Looking back, Craven credits her mentorship and help with getting him into NYU, and with his success now. He currently works at NBC in creative development in Los Angeles.

“She definitely set the stage for my love for film,” he said.

Cynthia Jacob and Dwayne Knies, Northeast Dubois

Clare Mangin graduated from Northeast Dubois High School in 2018 and is now finishing her freshman year at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. When she thinks back to her years at Northeast Dubois, two teachers come to mind: social studies teacher Cynthia Jacob and math teacher Dwayne Knies. Both showed they cared about their students as a whole instead of just how they performed as students, Mangin recalled.

Mangin first had Jacob during her sophomore year for world history, and Mangin remembers thinking she was one of the sweetest people.

“She cared a lot more about who we were as people,” Mangin said. “She educated us to make us good people, not just to meet standards.”

Eventually, Jacob talked Mangin into getting involved with the yearbook, and encouraged her to be an editor of the publication during her senior year. Through the years, Mangin formed a close relationship with Jacob, which was made stronger by their shared faith and membership at St. Isidore Parish. Jacob became a mentor for Mangin, both at school and in church.

“She’d say she was praying for me, and she kept up with all my activities,” Mangin said. “She just really showed she cared.”

Mangin also remembers Knies for taking an interest in his students outside of school. During her senior year, Mangin took calculus with Knies. The class was small — less than 10 students — and Mangin remembers Knies cultivating a personal relationship with each of them. He’d start each class by asking about their lives and talking about what was happening around school.

“He’s a role model for a lot of the young men in our class,” Mangin said.

Mangin remembers him most for how he changed her attitude toward calculus. At the beginning of the class, Mangin said, she expected the subject to be hard, but he found ways to explain the lessons in ways she could understand. He also looked for opportunities to make calculus fun. By the end of the class, Mangin enjoyed calculus and discovered she could tackle the challenging subject.

“He really just taught me that I can do whatever I set my mind to as long as I approach it with determination and hard work,” she said.

Chuck Bradley and Chad Gayso, Southeast Dubois

Forest Park Junior-Senior High School senior Katie Winkler is just days away from graduation. This fall, she’ll be attending Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, to study music therapy and instrumental performance, and she knows going into music means she’ll inevitably end up teaching it someday. Thankfully, she’s had two inspiring music teachers at Forest Park: chorus director Chuck Bradley and band director Chad Gayso.

“Watching the way they teach and how it’s impacted all of us makes me super excited to teach in the future,” Katie said.

She admires Bradley for his willingness to go out of his way to help his students with whatever they need. Recently, she and some classmates wanted to record a song they’d written as a send-off for Gayso, who accepted a job at Jasper High School. They’d planned to record the song at a studio in Huntingburg, but that didn’t work out. When Bradley heard the students’ Plan A had fallen through, he tracked down recording equipment and set it up in his classroom. Then, he dedicated three hours to helping the students record the song.

“He’s just always there for anybody who needs him,” Katie said.

She said she’ll remember Gayso for the respect and support he gives his students. He feels like a friend and a teacher, she said, and he’s always there for students to talk to.

“It’s so easy to respect him because he treats everyone as an equal,” she said.

He also pushed her to learn to play the oboe, and consistently pushes his students out of their comfort zones to help them grow.

Katie chose her career path based on her relationships with Bradley and Gayso.

Jenny Fowler and Michelle Allen, Southwest Dubois

Kelsey (Sollman) Erny graduated from Southridge High School in 2008, but she still remembers the educators she had there and how they impacted her life. Two stand out: guidance counselor Jenny Fowler and social studies teacher Michelle Allen. Erny remembers both as positive people who always pushed students to be true to themselves.

Fowler pushed Erny to get involved in school clubs, even though Erny already worked two jobs. Erny took her advice and got involved in a slew of organizations: Student Council, National Honors Society, Peers Educating Peers and Students Against Destructive Decisions, to name a few. Once Erny got involved, Fowler pushed her to go for leadership roles in some of the organizations. Without Fowler’s encouragement, Erny said, she never would have gone after leadership roles.

“Doing so, I was able to be more confident,” Erny said.

Fowler and Erny developed a special relationship, growing so close that Fowler became a faith mentor for Erny, was her confirmation sponsor and attended her wedding. Now that Erny is an adult with her own children and living locally, Fowler is part of the family. Erny loves having Fowler around because she’s such a positive and uplifting person.

“She never has anything bad to say about anybody or any situation,” Erny said. “She looks for the best in people.”

Erny also remembers Allen for her positivity. Erny was in Allen’s government and economics classes, and she recalls Allen always being positive and joking with her students.

“It was nice not to have to be so serious all the time,” Erny said.

Beyond her positivity, Erny said, Allen was a good listener who was always there for her students. Although Allen set good boundaries between her personal and school lives, Erny remembers her sharing about her life enough to be relatable to her students.

“I often lumped my teachers in the category of ‘people I can’t relate to,’ focused only on one aspect of my education,” Erny said. “She did not fit into that category.”

As Allen and Erny got to know each other, Erny remembers Allen welcoming her into her home and even trusting Erny to babysit her children.

“Michelle was the kind of person you could not compare to any other,” Erny said. “She was very unique and funny, honest and true to herself. She actively inspired us to be as well.”




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