Educator Elaine Dalke wore an inflatable, purple crown atop her head Friday morning, seated in her special education classroom at Sherman’s Henry Sory Elementary among a handful of her pupils. When a visitor entered the room to learn the story behind her selection as the Sherman VFW’s Citizenship Education Teacher of the Year, she quickly removed the headpiece, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
Tiny voices from around the table roared in protest, and she yielded to their objections. No one wants to spend their 15 minutes of fame wearing an inflatable crown, but priorities are priorities.
“I love teaching special ed. because I can actually see that I’m helping the kids learn,” said Dalke. “I can see their growth every day.”
It’s a passion that began nine years ago when Dalke worked as a special ed. aide at Jefferson Elementary. She taught third and fourth grade before finally becoming a full-fledged special ed. teacher last year. But several years before attaining that title, when she transferred to freshly-opened Sory, she found a school that was clearly missing something.
“Veterans Day is real close to my heart, because my dad was a vet. He was in WWII and his platoon was one of the first ones down at Normandy — he was a paratrooper,” said Dalke. “This school opened up six years ago, and we didn’t have any kind of a (veterans) program or anything, so I asked (Principal) Traw … if I could do it, and it’s just kind of grown from there.”
Since starting small, Dalke’s labor of love has blossomed into one of the premier veterans events in the county, a main reason Steven Traw submitted her nomination for the VFW award.
“(The award is) based on citizenship, and Ms. Dalke, she organizes and plans the Veterans Day program every year,” said Traw. “She’s just passionate about it — about what it means to be a good citizen and to be an American, and she just tries to instill that in the kids. When I got (the nomination form), when they told me what this was about, she’s the first one that popped in my head, of course.”
Sherman Post 2772 Commander Ray Flood said the committee that selected Dalke agreed with Traw that Sory’s veterans event was a great reason for recognition, among others.
“She’s very patriotic, she’s a nice lady and she works very hard,” said Flood. “The kids out there love her to death. When we made the presentation, I think we caught her off guard. She wasn’t expecting it.”
Indeed, Dalke said Thursday’s award ceremony at the school came as a surprise. She deflected credit to her colleagues at Sory, while acknowledging that the recognition meant a lot to her personally, as well.
“I just want to make sure people realize it’s not just me that does this; it’s the whole school that’s involved,” said Dalke.
“(The veterans program) is my favorite thing that I do all year; it’s my absolute favorite thing,” she continued, tears welling in her eyes. “My mom and dad are both gone now, but I know they’d be proud of me. The award really means a lot to me.”