It’s not so much a workplace, Vicki Walters said, as it is a family. And it’s a family that helps other family members, which the Stanley County School District showed on Tuesday.
Walters, who joined the district at the start of the 2020-21 academic year after a three-year stint teaching in Todd County, is undergoing treatment for stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. She said she hopes to return to school in January, and said as much to students who walked over to embrace her during an interview on the Stanley County school playground.
Walters left work in late October, but she is far from forgotten by her students. A K-12 penny war running from Nov. 8-18 yielded $3,209 just for her.
“I appreciate each and everyone of you so much,” Walters told a gathered group of students who took to the playground to see her be presented with the check on Tuesday afternoon. “I thank you for all your cards, and I thank you for all your thoughts and all your prayers, and I am just so grateful to be a teacher in your school, and I appreciate each and everyone of you so much, and I miss you guys all so much, and I’m going to see you in January, OK? I love you guys. Thank you.”
The class that raised the most for Walters won a pizza party, but the way Walters’ speech received applause on Tuesday, it could easily be concluded that the pizza party was in the rearview mirror for most of the students.
“This is amazing,” Walters told the Capital Journal. “Like, this is only my second year here. So obviously, this is a great place to work and a great place to be a part of. They have just embraced me and it feels amazing.”
Teacher Misty Biwer said when she heard of Walters’ diagnosis, she remembered the penny war concept from watching television and from fundraisers at other schools.
“I just thought, ‘We need to do this for her.’ So we all got together and came out, and it all worked out good,” Biwer said. “I really didn’t know what to expect, but I think it’s a pretty good amount.”
Biwer said every day from the 8th through the 18th, the students were excited to see the total amount raised as it rose and increased from their spare-change donations.
“It’s my first year here but it’s a small community and everybody works together,” Biwer said. “Seems like a really nice bunch of people to work with.”
Walters agreed with that sentiment, adding that she felt her colleagues’ support well before her diagnosis came in.
“They made me feel at home last year when I came to work here, and when my diagnosis came, too, they were super supportive,” Walters said. “And (I) just always had a special relationship with (Elementary School Principal Terri) Mehlhaff and (Middle/High School Principal James) Cutshaw. From day one, they’ve just been so supportive and amazing.”
Walters gazed back over an impromptu basketball game on the playground court for a moment.
“Everybody,” she said while watching the game. “All the staff, all the certified staff, all the paraprofessionals, all the special ed people, all the middle school and high school. We’re just one big family.”