Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight- A Second Chance

Welcome back to Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight! This month we headed over to Westview Middle School to meet Dan Cribby. Currently, Dan is an eighth grade science teacher. He is in his ninth year at Westview. Before coming to Westview, he taught 14 years at Longs Peak Middle School.

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As we begin our interview, a former student pops in to say hi and catch up. Dan asks if the girl’s basketball season was still going on, and if she was ready for track. After a few minutes she is on her way, and I ask if that was one of his eighth graders from last year. He smiles and says no and then explains that at Westview they employ a Student/Teacher Progression – meaning every three years his team starts out with a new group of sixth graders and they stay together for core classes (science, math, language arts and social studies) until they are finished with eighth grade. Dan explained how he really loved seeing the progression and watching his students grow throughout the years. So, next fall, Dan and his team will welcome a new group of students into their classrooms and journey with those kids throughout their middle school years.

 

With any level of teaching it takes a special person to fill that role. Middle school is no exception, especially with the cliche of being “tumultuous years”. Dan doesn’t see it that way. He sees students more engaged, kinder and gentler than what you might think or expect. He believes, since students have the choice of where to go to school, they are more invested in their education. It’s not something that happened to them. They, along with their parents, make the choice of where to go to school. Dan feels that this helps create a sense of community and helps alleviate some of the anxiety typically associated with middle school.

 

We continue to discuss teaching strategies and how plans are becoming more project-based. Students learn to take an idea through the entire design process. Dan commented that he encourages his students to try something, and if it doesn’t work the first time, stick with it and try again.

 

It struck me at this point. The reason Dan encourages second chances is because of the second chance he received almost nine years ago. To sit down and talk to Dan you get the feeling you are in the presence of someone with a lot more wisdom than you, but with a quiet gentle soul that truly cares about those around him. Nine years ago, he had just started at Westview Middle School, with a group of seventh graders. Around this time of year he contracted strep throat, he didn’t think it was a big deal. He had had it many times before. His doctor said the infection should clear up in about three days, and any medicine at this point would take 12 hours to kick in and only reduce symptoms by 50%. Dan chose to forego treatment and wait it out. In a very rare circumstance, the strep throat entered into his body and became necrotising fasciitis, a flesh eating bacteria. He wasn’t supposed to survive the first night. After being in a medically induced coma for three months, and undergoing at least 15 surgeries to save his life, he was able to come home.

It wasn’t just the medical treatment that saved Dan’s life. He credits the overwhelming,  outpouring of love and support from students, the school and the district as what helped to save him. During his battle, the doctors had to amputate his left arm, collar, shoulder bone and most of his skin to keep the bacteria from spreading even further. After coming out of the coma he had to relearn a great deal. Long walks down to the mailbox were made a little easier that summer with the arrival of letters from his students. Many wrote sending their well wishes and hopes to see him again in the fall.

 

The school and district really rallied behind Dan as well. As you can imagine with an illness that serious, there were medical bills. His friends and family hosted a 5K ‘Fun Run’ called the ‘Happy Smackah’. I asked him where on earth did that name come from and he was happy to explain.

Dan is originally from Maine and this expression refers to someone who is filled with simple joy of life (The French call this “joie de vivre”). He loves people who are “happy smackahs”, and he often refers to his students as happy smackahs. The name was simply a reflection of who this run was going to benefit.

 

The Happy Smackah 5K Fun Run is now an annual event with a different beneficiary each year. The beneficiaries are anyone within St. Vrain Valley Schools – a student or staff member going through a medical hardship. Dan said he is lucky that he is able to help pay it forward.

This year is no different, on May 12, hundreds of individuals will show up to run another ‘Happy Smackah’. All entry fees raised from this year’s race will be donated to Clara Shipp, a 5 year-old in our community facing many medical challenges. We are proud to be apart of this year’s ‘Happy Smackah’ and hope you will join us in supporting this little one and her family.

 

For more information check out http://www.happysmackah.com/the-clara-shipp-story/

 

Dan, thank you for taking the time to share your story and encouraging others to find ways to pay it forward. We wish you all the best!

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