Continuing his legacy

  • Jessica Vachula-Curtis Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Jessica Vachula-Curtis works with sophomore Justin Dobias reading “The Hate U Give.” Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

Staff Writer
Published: 1/31/2019 11:28:01 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Joining the Turners Falls High School student recipient senior Andy Craver, Jessica Vachula-Curtis is this year’s staff recipient of the McGraw Uplift Award.

Like Craver, English and special education teacher, Vachula-Curtis was nominated more than once, “showing their positive influence on our community,” according to Principal Annie Leonard.

Following the death of Assistant Principal Earl McGraw in fall 2016, students suggested the creation of an award that would honor his spirit and sustain his lasting influence on the school.

This is the third year of the award, which is given to students and staff who exemplify McGraw’s principles. The school community nominates students and staff.

McGraw’s principles were treating everyone with respect and without judgment, seeing someone who is down and lifting them up with love and laughter, going after goals with all your heart and helping others go after their goals.

One nominator said, “I can’t think of anyone who better exemplifies Mr. McGraw’s positive attitude and energy with students,” according to Leonard.

“(Vachula-Curtis is unfailingly patient, finds the good in everyone and is highly creative with her teaching,” Leonard said. “Her own students know her as the person who has brought engaging contemporary literature like ‘Hamilton,’ ‘The Hate U Give’ and now, ‘Dear Martin’ to her English classes.”

The wider community knows her as one of the people responsible for organizing the school’s participation in Monte’s March this past year, promoting the Mobile Food Bank and raising awareness of resources related to hunger and food insecurity.

“And not everyone knows it, but she is also a driving force behind our advisory program, developing activities, supporting advisors and promoting student-led advisories,” Leonard said.

As another of her nominators said, she is a “bright light in our community.”

Vachula-Curtis said receiving the award came as a total surprise, but she was honored to be aligned with McGraw, who she said was “an example of the best things about humanity.”

“I would love to have the same impact he had,” Vachula-Curtis said. “I live and work in this community, and I think it’s important to make a difference as much as possible. And, I’ve been given the freedom to teach things I think are valuable.”

Vachula-Curtis said she didn’t work with McGraw for very long, but she had one story that showed his ability to get things done.

“There was a student who needed special sports goggles because he had an eye injury,” Vachula-Curtis said. “There was a meeting of the staff to try to figure out how to pay for them and get them. For a while, nothing was happening, and then a couple days before the game, Earl said he was running out for a minute and he just bought the goggles. If he saw something that needed to be done to help someone, he just did it.”


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