By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Even after almost a quarter-century spent at Campbell Elementary School, Linda Vratkovich can’t help still loving her job and the fourth-grade students she prefers to call her children.
“Sometimes, I go to school and I’m complaining, but then the kids come in and start hugging you, and it’s one thing after another,” Vratkovich explained. “The day just flies by.”
This year is Vratkovich’s last as a teacher in Campbell, but when she retires in June, she’s sure that her legacy will be made up of the hundreds of fourth-graders whose lives she, in some way, touched over the years.
After all, that’s what teaching has always been about for Vratkovich: making a difference and helping her children become “the best they can be” in all areas of their lives, not just academically.
For Vratkovich’s longstanding dedication to her students, and for her excellence in the classroom, she was selected by the Ohio Lottery Commission as its Youngstown-area Partners in Education Teacher of the Month for December.
In November, too, Mary Janek, a science teacher at Campbell Memorial High School who has spent 29 years in the school district, was chosen for the state honor.
Vratkovich and Janek received an assortment of Partners in Education merchandise, along with a gift certificate, for the designation.
“We are very proud of the accomplishments of all of our dedicated staff throughout the district,” said Matthew Bowen, superintendent of Campbell City Schools. “We congratulate [them] ... for their continued service to the students they serve.”
Vratkovich — a lifelong city resident and graduate of Campbell Memorial High School — began her teaching career in the 1970s at a private Catholic school, but then took an “18-year maternity leave,” she recalled, laughing.
She later started substitute teaching at Campbell Elementary School when her own children, Kristin and Alan Vratkovich, were enrolled in the school district, and six years later, in 1997, was hired for a permanent position.
Over her nearly three-decade career, Vratkovich has noticed a number of changes in education, but in particular, drastic changes to the family dynamic. In the 1970s, she said, most children were part of the typical nuclear family with two parents. Now, many children come from a much different background, raised by grandparents or in an unstable home environment.
“It’s harder for the children today,” Vratkovich said. “I might be the only hope that these children have. The hug that you give them might be the only hug they’ll get. That’s why I readily accept hugs; I’m a hugger.”
Vratkovich added that she’ll most miss the rapport and the closeness that she established with her past and present students, and remains touched by those who remember her, even years after she had them in class. She said she found it surprising that so many former students would stop her at the grocery store or find her on Facebook, just to say hello.
“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience for all of my years,” Vratkovich said. “I’ll be going out on a good note.”
Much like Vratkovich, Janek — who has taught at Campbell Memorial High School for her entire teaching career, save for a few months in the Poland Local School District — said her students’ successes are what most inspire and motivate her. She’s proud of every student, she said, ranging from those who have gone on to become doctors and engineers, to those who stop by to tell her that they got a B in their college-level chemistry class.
“It’s so rewarding; it really is,” Janek said.
Janek teaches science to the school’s sophomores, juniors and seniors, including an advanced-placement course in chemistry. She also advises the chemistry club and runs the school’s recycling program, for which she was awarded a grant to purchase recycling bins for each classroom.
She added that all of these extra efforts also require extra time on her part — with the only compensation being the knowledge that her students have those additional opportunities. So, when Janek found out that she’d been selected for the Teacher of the Month award, she was “so excited,” especially as she intends to retire from public school teaching in the next year.
Janek, who originally is from Cleveland and lived in Niles when she began her career in Campbell, moved to the city in 1998, a move she said felt like coming home. Her three children — Drew, Aislinn and Derek Janek — all graduated from Campbell Memorial High School, and she said it’s been a “supportive and positive” place to work for the past 29 years.
“There’s such a wonderful sense of community here in town, with so many responsive parents,” Janek said.