January 29, 2021

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Not even an out-of-control car can stop teacher from going the extra mile for her students

As she works with her students, Sandi Kirchner of St. Mary School in North Vernon encourages them to follow her lead in “trying to be the best person I can be every day.” Here, she helps one of her students, Kennedei Roll. (Submitted photo)

As she works with her students, Sandi Kirchner of St. Mary School in North Vernon encourages them to follow her lead in “trying to be the best person I can be every day.” Here, she helps one of her students, Kennedei Roll. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Sandi Kirchner has always approached her teaching career with the attitude, “Anything God wants me to do”—an approach that was tested to its limits one day when she saw a car veering out of control as she helped monitor an

after-school pick-up line of cars.

The car was headed right toward the spot where a boy in the first grade was talking to her about his grandparents’ dog. Seeing the car’s driver slumped over the wheel and a little girl inside the car, Kirchner pushed the boy to safety.

As the car bounced off the curb in front of Kirchner, it ricocheted toward the center of a busy street. Kirchner ran toward the car, opened the front passenger door, jumped inside the car and stretched her left foot toward the brake—stopping the car. No one was hurt, including the driver who later recovered from the seizure that caused the car to veer out of control.

That scene from 2009 was a moment of drama in the 38-year teaching career of Kirchner—a teacher who has made it her mission to have a dramatic impact on the lives of her students, albeit in a much more calm and constant way. She tries to make that impact on her third-grade students at St. Mary School in North Vernon by asking them to do the one thing she demands of herself.

“I’m trying to be the best person I can be every day, and I’m trying to be better every day,” she says. “And that’s what I try to instill in my students. I try to instill in them that we’re not perfect and God knows that, but he wants us to try to be better.

“We talk a lot about bullying and peer pressure. We talk about how God calls us to stand up for a classmate or to help an elderly person when all our classmates rush by. And we talk about doing the right thing because God is there, and he’s sent us the Holy Spirit to help us do that.”

Kirchner has shared that message with two generations of students in her 38 years of teaching, which have all been done in the third grade at St. Mary School. Even with that longevity and continuity, she strives to add a fresh approach to every school year. She also strives to view every student as a child of God.

“Whether I’m talking about our spirituality or academics, I always try to identify where the students are in their lives. I have students being raised by their grandparents, by single parents, by parents who are at the poverty level and by parents who have more money than you and I will ever have.

“I identify where the students are, help them to become a better person and acknowledge we are all gifts from God and we’re all in God’s family. That’s the foundation where I start from, and we go from there. It’s all driven by my faith. This is the call God has given me, and he’s entrusted me with these children.” †

 

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