MAY 8, 2023 | Once upon a time, in a cozy kindergarten classroom at Toni Morrison Elementary School, there was a dynamic duo: teacher Laura Deery and her trusted sidekick, Aunt Margie.
For the last 15 years, Margie Heidrich has been volunteering in Deery’s classroom once a week, earning her the title of “Aunt Margie” from the adoring kids. It all started when Heidrich’s niece was a student in Deery’s second-grade class, and Heidrich couldn’t resist the sweet pleas of her niece to join her at school.
Heidrich said her mother had already donned the superhero cape of being a classroom volunteer, so she figured a few visits wouldn’t hurt.
As most school stories go, the niece mastered the world of second grade and left Mrs. Deery behind to move on to bigger and better things – also known as third grade. But Heidrich couldn’t move on just yet.
So, one year of volunteering became two, two became three, and before Heidrich knew it, she was ticking off years faster than some paid employees, bringing years of joy, fun, and much love to Deery’s classroom. But, of course, this story has had its twists and turns – Deery switching grades and schools, personal losses in both Deery’s and Heidrich's personal lives, Heidrich giving birth to her son, and even a global pandemic that shut down schools for months.
“But no matter what, I always want to return,” Heidrich said. “It's my day off, and I will rather be here than home. I walk in every day asking, ‘What can I do to help?’”
After so many years together, the pair mastered the dance between teacher and volunteer, and an unspoken language emerged. A stack of classroom work gets graded with the top paper serving as the grading key for Heidrich to breeze through, and photos and artwork next to a staple remover is a sign for Heidrich to update Deery’s bulletin board in the hallway. Sight word cards are wiped clean just by their mere presence on Heidrich’s workstation in the back of the room.
“I just put everything on the table, and we have been together for so long. She knows just what to do,” Deery said.
Now as Deery readies for retirement at the end of the school year, she wonders how she can thank a woman who has become a friend to her and an aunt to so many children.
“At one time, I told her to apply for a job as a paraprofessional so she could get paid for what she does, but she just said no because she only wants to work with me,” Deery said. “I get her an end-of-the-year gift, but it doesn’t match what she has given me. Who can say they have had this kind of support for 15 years – 15 YEARS!”
Heidrich said the praise is not needed. Instead, she helps because she operates from the mindset of ‘If not her, then who.’
“There is not enough help for our teachers,” she said. “When you have 17, 18, or maybe even 20 kids in your class, and your paraprofessional is going between two classes, a little help goes a long way, and I am happy to be that help.”
So, while Deery is closing the book on her Lorain Schools career, Heidrich said her story will continue.
Another teacher has already snatched up the volunteer extraordinaire for the coming school year.