National Teaching Award Nominee
Arrowhead Union High School, Hartland, Wisconsin
Student Nomination Story
If you told freshman year me that multimedia/graphic applications was one of my favorite classes I would have laughed in your face. How could a class that works with computers for not only one class period, but for two be my favorite class? My educator of the year, Ms. Danay. Hyped up on caffeine, I dragged myself to multimedia/graphic applications, shoved in headphones working on a “How to” video project when my former teacher announced a new teacher next week. I didn't think much of it. I figured a new teacher, would have no effect. Eventually, the day came when a short woman with curly blond hair (that reminded me of my grandma—sorry, Ms. Danay!) came in. With a warm smile, she talked about her adorable sons and how she transferred from another high school about half an hour away. Almost every teacher does ice breakers on the first day, but she listened to each student and asked questions about our lives. She hushed other students when another student shared. She made a complete 180 in her life just because she saw an opportunity to come to Arrowhead, my high school, to be part of “One Team” (our school motto). I felt I mattered. This might sound strange seeing this woman didn't know my name yet, but it’s true. This is the way Ms. Danay makes everyone feel: welcomed, no matter what they look like or how little they seem to care. Every morning, she asked the class how everyone was doing and then began telling us a story about something wild her sons did the night before. She reminded me of a momma bear protecting her cubs. I believe she carries this throughout not only her personal life, but also through her students. She allows her students to be independent, but knows when students need help. I wanted to feel that warm and sunny attitude, if even just for 40 minutes. I was excited for summer, and a part of me knew that next year I would be able to feel the sun not from outside, but from her. Second semester into junior year, she was my teacher for web design. I looked forward to seeing her for not only one period, but for two. Most students at Arrowhead hate block classes (classes for two periods instead of one) but I enjoyed it when Ms. Danay taught. A couple weeks into that semester, I lost someone important in my life: my dad. Through my troubles, I remembered for at least two periods, I could take a breath of fresh air. I could talk to someone who made me feel mattered, cared about what not only me, but also my family. She checked in with me, our conversation brief, but felt like I had a classroom that felt like home. I wanted someone to just talk to me, and that is what she offered. Given a challenging day at school, nothing seemed to go right. I was late. I failed my math test. And I couldn't get my web page to look the way that I wanted. I came in during another hour and asked for assistance and Ms. Danay came over. I will always remember these simple words: “Well, you are a strong girl, you will get through this.” With one sentence, she said everything I needed to hear. If you told freshman year me I went through probably the worst time in my life, and actually look forward to going to a class, I would have chuckled. How did I get so lucky getting a teacher that actually cares about her students, that makes everyone feel welcomed? The answer is Ms. Danay.
Thank you Danay for being a great teacher. I’ve taken two classes at Arrowhead High School with Mrs. Danay. Computer Essentials in my freshman year and Multigraphic Applications in my sophomore year. Freshman and sophomore year were a free-for-all. Kids were shoving through the hallways, stopping abruptly in the middle of them and creating a blockade, yelling, and could sometimes be indistinguishable from a pack of feral hogs. It was crazy, but Danay is one of the teachers that made it more interesting — and sensical. Walking into her class was a relief from the other classes. I knew that she was an understanding and laid-back person. She knew I had a better grip on computers than others in the class and put trust in me that I would get my work done. This created a trustworthy connection between us, and let me be productive at my own pace. After I got done with an assignment, she would have no problem with me being on my phone. I don’t just respect her because she had let me on my phone, but because she had this trust in me that I would still get what I needed to, finished. It means a lot that a teacher would put trust in a random high schooler, especially in the years where kids are the most trouble. On that topic, dealing with the Freshman and Sophomores in her class, I could tell, was a whole different level of challenging. The phrase “Ya heeear me” would be shouted almost every five minutes as the kids talked with what they perceived as a gangster accent. Rap lyrics were repeated over and over again as some kids tried and failed at freestyle rapping. But Danay was impressively good at keeping collective. Danay is also involved and dedicated to her job. She wants to teach other kids her fascination of technology, hoping maybe one or more of them will click with it and possibly pursue it one day. Every effort possible is made to help students. She stops what she is doing so that she can help with an issue someone is having — whether it be the old computers freezing when doing something simple in Photoshop, or a computer’s side panel randomly falling off. But the side panel incident was real and had crossed the line for her. She wanted to find out who had broken it off of the computer, and the first person she had asked was me. She thought I would know and trusted I would give her an honest answer, which shows this trustworthy connection. I’ve had great experiences in your classes Danay, and I know other students have too. My friends have had only good things to say about you and their experience in your classes, and the same goes for me. Thank you Danay for being a selfless, level-headed, and dedicated teacher.
I walked through the halls of Arrowhead High School for the first time, a junior transferring from South Carolina. My nerves were electric, powering my heart to beat a million times a minute. I walked into my first class (20 minutes before the bell rang because I was terrified of being late). I peaked in to meet the person who was advising Yearbook, the person who would be my first period teacher for the year. I had been shy, I still am, but her energy was impossible not to match. I started to blab out my story, venting to this woman I had only known for a few minutes. The conversation became a whirlwind, a physical release of my pent up nerves. I talked about how I had been in yearbook before. I blabbed about how I was excited to continue my experience. Mercilessly, I jumped to topics that were fresh wounds, how I had only found out I was moving two weeks before hand, leaving my friends 1,000 miles away. But in her presence it felt as if I was talking to an old friend, met with open ears and a bright smile, healing and rejuvenating me for my tough journey to come. She understood I was nervous, but she sympathized. She told me how she had only just started teaching at Arrowhead and she was just getting to know how this new school works and functions. I felt like I had a friend, someone who knew what I was going through. The year went on and I got to know my yearbook advisor better. She trusted, helped, and taught. She made me laugh and smile, she brightened my day when I felt like the world was without light. I will always remember how she made students feel special. She would half sing, half yell “This is your birthday song! It isn’t very long!” As the class claps along with no sense of rhythm, but smiles plastered on each and everyone's face as a grown woman bounced up and down trying to cheer on the birthday kid. It was a moment of pure joy and excitement that someone in the class had made it one more year. Her class was not like any other, not burdensome, not a never ending chase towards a grade. Instead, it was creativity, I could pitch out ideas and they would be truly listened to. She is rare, allowing students to be individuals and explore themselves in an unrestricting but still productive way. She did not allow the tough surroundings of education to dissuade her from accomplishing the ambitions she wanted to achieve. She would figure out a way with direct communication and mutual respect, to lead her class. When a deadline in the yearbook was coming up and there was proofing, captioning, tagging to be done, she may have been stressed beyond imagination, but she stuck through it, advising and leading us to victory. Lighthearted, joyful, positive, supporting, respecting are some adjectives that I would have given her at first. They describe her well, but I have learned more about her. There are some more adjectives to add. Strong, underestimated, genuine, hardworking, believable, dependable. Under the light she casts onto the world, filled with a sense of joy and lightness, she is determined to accomplish her goals and help others accomplish theirs. To Mrs. Danay: Thank you for being the teacher of the century, the friend when I had none, and a role model, not just for me, but for everyone in your presence.
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