Kindergarten teacher Lynn Mielak was on her lunch break one year when she saw a St. Bonaventure student with pants that were too short.
Mielak knew the family struggled financially. Fortunately, the school has several boxes of clothes students can buy at the beginning of the year.
“I just felt bad,” Mielak said. “We found some pants that fit her. I didn’t think much of it … but it really helped her.”
The girl later wrote her a letter, years later, to say 'You don’t know much that meant to me,' Mielak said.
“You just don’t know, especially when they’re little, how you affect their lives,” she said. “It’s such a big responsibility. I’ve got to make sure I’m doing a good job.”
Mielak must be doing a good job because she recently won the Educator of the Year – Elementary award from the Archdiocese of Omaha.
“I was so surprised,” she said. “Any teacher in our building could win that because our staff is so awesome at St. Bons.”
Mielak is entering her 23rd year teaching kindergarten at St. Bonaventure and is starting to see the children of her former students in class.
“It’s pretty awesome. We have great families,” Mielak said.
She graduated from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in December 1993 and substitute taught half the year. Then, she taught second grade for two years at St. Mary’s in Lincoln. Her husband got a job in Columbus – where he grew up and attended St. Bons.
Mielak taught kindergarten for a year at Humphrey St. Francis before returning to teach at the school her husband attended.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I just loved playing school and I had some really good teachers growing up,” she said. “Teaching is an adventure. Every year is different, every class is different and so it never gets boring.”
She loves to work with parents as well as helping kids and watching them grow.
“I love what I do,” Mielak said. “And I get paid. That’s a perk. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Whenever St. Bonaventure Principal Cheryl Zoucha needs something done creatively in the building, she goes to Meilak, who she’s known for almost 16 years.
“This year, for example, she painted herself all these little pictures and wall hangings,” Zoucha said. “She did this over the summer and then, at the start of the school year, she came in and she hung these positive sayings and pictures all throughout our building. That just exemplifies her positive attitude and the nature of who she is.”
Mielak is also compassionate and creative, Zoucha noted.
“She is very aware of her students’ needs as well as the needs of her colleagues and our school families,” Zoucha said. “She responds to those needs with kindness and sincerity and with great love.”
Mielak also has a great sense of humor, Zoucha said, and she’s always trying to find the positive in every situation.
“If there are families in our school building, for example, that are struggling with just with whatever life throws at them, she is one of the first ones to want our school to respond and to reach out and help those families in any way that we can,” Zoucha said.
Good teachers will hear from their former students, Zoucha added.
Mielak is one of those teachers.
“Mielak has had personal struggles in her life but that she has relied on her faith and her positive outlook on life to get her through those struggles, so that’s been an inspiration to all of us who know her,” Zoucha said.
Mielak said her personal struggles have helped her help students.
“I’ve had some tragedy. We lost a baby in 2005 and that was really hard,” Mielak said. “I had a little guy in my class and his mom, they lost their baby, and I could talk to him about that. I know how that feels.”
Mielak said she always tries to look on the bright side.
It can be challenging to teach students who are all on different levels, but she said the kindergartners are honest and sweet.
“They’re the first to let me know it’s time to color my hair or my outfit doesn’t go together. That’s just their honesty,” she said. “They want to do (well) and they want to make the teacher happy…I love to create a family-type feel within the classroom.”
She also loves to instill the importance of prayer and Jesus in their lives.
“To be able to be a part of that is pretty neat,” she said.
Carolyn Komatsoulis is a reporter for the Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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