‘So much more than a teacher’: This NY first grade teacher has a new take on home-schooling

GREECE, N.Y. – Families in Greece, New York, are receiving texts that their bread has arrived, their soap has been dropped off and their school supplies are on the front step. But the items aren’t being delivered by an Instacart shopper.

They’re toted by a selfless teacher.

While students can’t see their instructors during the coronavirus shutdown, Brookside Elementary School first-grade teacher Deborah Cowley is giving new meaning to the concept of home-schooling.

Cowley is making surprise visits to her students’ houses. She’s driving by them for birthday parades. And she’s mailing personalized cards to them.

“She sent us a text saying, ‘Look outside.’ My son was over-the-moon excited because his teacher was here,” said Lorraine Kane, whose son Nick, 6, is in Cowley’s class. “One day she dropped bread in our mailbox. She is so much more than a teacher. She’s basically their mom away from home.”.

Talk to Cowley for a few minutes and you’ll wish she was your mom away from home, too. She’s a quirky, endearing chatterbox but prefers to operate as a helper without recognition. (In our conversation, she offered to knit my pregnant wife a baby blanket and told me she’d bring me diapers because she’s a couponer.).

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During the school closures, Cowley sent all 20 of her students a letter and self-addressed stamped envelope so they could be pen pals, and she celebrated virtual spirit week by dressing in sock monkey pajamas.

One of her students doesn’t have access to the internet or a computer, so Cowley drops off learning materials. She has only been leaving her house once a week to shop for her elderly mother but will make a pit stop from a safe distance on the way home.

“She showed up to our house holding a sign up to the window that said ‘I miss you! I love you!’ ” Said Charissa Cutaia, whose daughter Ava has Cowley. “The kids don’t understand why they’re not going back to school and it was a sense of normalcy to see her teacher.

“It’s huge. The kids absolutely love her.”.

Tragedy led to new outlook

Cowley has faced heartbreak in her career. More than a decade ago, she taught two students who – in separate incidents – were murdered by their fathers. Those tragedies molded her into part educator, part protector.

“I kind of view students a little bit differently, so I always let my students know how much they are cared for,” Cowley said. “I have their back. I try to make sure they know they are safe and they are loved.”.

They love her back. When her students sit down with their parents to compile birthday party guest lists, they routinely insist on inviting Cowley. She always RSVPs yes.

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Chuck E. Cheese, Adventure Landing, Laser Quest, bounce houses – Cowley says she has “probably been to every birthday party place around here.”.

Cowley, 50, was originally an accountant. But for an extrovert like her, working 9 to 5 in a cubicle was a social distancing nightmare. So she enrolled in Nazareth College for her master’s degree in education and has been in the Greece school district for 23 years.

Cowley talks to her student Nick Kane every morning. When school was in session, he would phone Cowley for encouragement before the bus arrived. She’s teaching him to overcome his fears, and he’s teaching her how to use the talk-to-text feature on her phone.

“My appreciation for her is indescribable,” Lorraine Kane said. “We’ll look back and say, ‘Remember when we were self-quarantining and Mrs. Cowley would stop by?’ It shows the kindness people have.”.

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