Secretary ‘Ms.’ Terri Davison and custodian Dave ‘Mr. Dave’ Rickman don’t need to be in instructional roles to be teachers to the students of Vandalia Elementary. Terri, celebrating her 25th anniversary on the VES staff, has been close to the school her entire life and knows its lessons like the backs of both busy hands. Terri and Dave passed through these halls as young ‘uns, and they both say that while the world has changed, Vandalia has remained the same in its ability to come together as a community.
“I just feel comfortable here,” Terri says of Vandalia. The people in the community let you know where they stand. They won’t rest until someone in need has the appropriate help. “If you hear the word ‘community,’ that’s what it means to us,” Dave explains, “if someone’s down, the rest rally around them and help support them.” He sees himself and all community stakeholders as support staff to benefit the students and guide their expanding views. Dave compares his role to the bottom of an upside-down umbrella, filled to the brim with gallons of colorful analogies illustrating life-learned ideas.
Things are certainly different since Dave and Terri were in school. “It’s just a lot more,” Terri says. The environment is more tuned to convenience. “Today is fast paced,” Dave says, exhausted to consider the thought. He believes this pace affects the way children interact with one another. “The way children react and respond to environment and circumstance nowadays is just different than when I was a kid,” he says, “now, with social media and its role in kids’ lives, it seems like conflict resolution and interaction, in general, is just more complex than in our day.” Terri says she’s seen changes in the culture and parenting that have also affected student interaction. “The family dynamics are altogether different nowadays,” Dave says, “both parents are generally working. Both parents are very busy. This creates a new set of challenges for both kids and their parents.”
Terri and Dave have seen several generations of families move through Vandalia schools since they attended back in the day. Dave is amazed they’re seeing not only the kids of classmates at the school but now the grandkids. “I enjoy the kids,” Dave beams, “they want to do everything they can to make your job easy. You say, ‘Hey, I’m sweeping here’ and they will move for you. They want to be helpers.” Both the secretary royale and sage custodian missed the children the most during the distance brought on by the pandemic. Terri’s workplace is returning to normal, and face-to-face chatter is welcome. “I do like the social aspect of it,” she says. Dave says he’s witnessed a difference in the children and himself since school has returned to uninterrupted sessions: “I really missed them…I always give the kids a high five. We need that socialization. Socialization is what builds it.”
Though times have changed, along with the scenery and fashion, the heart of Vandalia Elementary stays true to what Terri and Dave remember. It’s a place where the support staff is another teacher. It’s where you run up to Ms. Terri’s desk when you have a pressing issue. It’s where Mr. Dave moonlights as the “Voice of the Vandals.” Dave and Terri remind us of the best fixtures in the community, the kind that quietly transform into leaders when a child without a direction or an answer is around.