It's a typical school day at Denham Oaks Elementary and Stacy Godfry-Nussbaum is on the move. She exudes an even-keeled nature as she goes about her duties as an intervention support teacher. Speaking in a gentle voice, she fills in gaps and shares strategies or "tricks" to help students retain what they have learned.
During an afternoon math lesson, Godfry-Nussbaum demonstrates how to use a number line to figure which fraction — 1/2 or 2/3 — is greater. In another classroom, she shares a fun way to remember how to spell the word "because" by using the first letters of each word in a silly sentence.
Big Elephants Can Always Use Scrambled Eggs.
The bespectacled teacher with a shock of red hair and black painted fingernails is known for being quick with a joke, a high five and oodles of hugs. Throughout the day, she gets as many as she gives from the throngs of students who call out to her as they pass in hallways or under the blanket of southern oaks on the school campus.
"She has an unbelievable rapport with the students," said principal Mardee Kay Powers. "Her depth of caring for kids is just so evident. The kids just love her. She's a lifelong learner and they want to learn because they see how excited she is about her own learning."
"She helps me understand things better," said student council president Alena Santiago, 11, who also works with Godfry-Nussbaum on activities to help better the school. "She's always there for people. She's very supportive if you need help. And even if you're not confident, she makes you confident."
"I get straight A's and I think it's because of her strategies and I use those on my tests," said Carter McDaris, 9.
If Godfry-Nussbaum is feeling weary or nauseated, she has never showed it, and so students were surprised when they heard that a favored teacher was not well.
Turns out Godfry-Nussbaum has been ill for awhile, having been diagnosed with kidney disease as a teenager. Over the years, her kidney function deteriorated, and now, at 41, she is in stage 5 renal failure. She is due for a kidney transplant, and there is a donor match in her brother-in-law, but the operation must wait for an infection called Clostridium difficile, which is caused by the use of antibiotics, to clear up. That could take months. In the meantime, Godfry-Nussbaum has started dialysis treatments, scheduled for three hours, three days a week after school.
"I didn't know she was sick because she always looked so happy," said Carter, who along with his younger brother, Cayden, has developed a close friendship with his teacher. So much so, that when Carter heard about a special fund that had been started by colleagues to defray the cost of Godfry-Nussbaum's health expenses and missed days of work, he broke into his piggy bank, offering up $77 of birthday and tooth-fairy money — all dollar bills. Cayden, 7, followed suit, contributing $22.
"She's worth the money," Carter said.
He wanted to do more, so Carter and his mom, Tiffany Hines, produced a video that has been posted on YouTube and on his teacher's Facebook page.
"She's a wonderful teacher — we're super fond of her," said Hines, who has also organized a community yard sale at the preschool where she works to raise money. "They've learned a lesson in compassion from this — it's greater than any lesson that can be spoken. This is reality."
Others have pitched in as well.
The school sponsored a walk for the Kidney Foundation in her honor that some 100 families attended. Student council members took up the cause for organ donation with the theme, Get ORGANized in support of their teacher and another student who recently had a heart transplant. Then there's students such as Tori Russian, 9, who along with her family, have made sacrifices to help out.
"We gave up eating junk and going out to eat to save money," said Tori, who also sold video games and her Nintendo DS to add $100 to the fund. "She (Godfry-Nussbaum) cried. She was very happy and that made me feel happy about doing the right thing."
"It's amazing — the support in this school from the kids, from the administration, the teachers, the parents," Godfry-Nussbaum said, as her eyes welled. "Every time I see a parent, they ask me how I'm doing; what they can do for me. You don't find that everywhere you go. You just don't. These kids are my life. This place keeps me going."
Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 435-7307.