National Distinguished Educator is from Horicon

McGilvra earns award based on her desire to help youngsters feel safe 
by Gayle Rydstrom
When Deb McGilvra’s son, Brian, was in third grade in 1992, he wanted to join Odyssey of the Mind. But the group needed another adult to continue the co-curricular activity at Van Brunt Elementary/Middle School.
McGilvra, who had been a special education aide for the school since 1999 offered her services. Two years later, the name was changed to Destination Imagination. It later ceased to exist, but McGilvra wanted the creative problem solving program to continue and Creative Dramatics was born.
“Creative Dramatics allows those in fourth grade and older a place to be creative and dream,” said McGilvra. “The students write the scripts. All I require is that the play teaches a lesson.”
Last year’s play was about bullying and how young people can stand up for themselves by not becoming bullies. This year’s play dealt with acceptance of those with disabilities. It was titled Disabilities Shouldn’t Hurt.
“It’s about having fun, being accepted, being comfortable,” said McGilvra. “Hands down, Creative Dramatics is more theatrical than the two predecessors and I love that.”
She points out that those involved learn much more than how to act on stage. Not only do the students write the scripts, they design the sets, learn how to do the make-up needed on each other, and how to make costumes.
“We have so many creative kids in this district,” said McGilvra. “Some of them are hesitant at first to join because they think they have to act, but they don’t. If they want to only write, or be creative by making costumes or props, or helping with make-up or something else behind the scenes, that’s just fine. They need to be comfortable and excited with what they are doing.”
Jacob Johnson was comfortable and excited after his first ‘day on the job.’ Diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (TS) at the age of five, Johnson took a flier home to his parents about Creative Dramatics early last school year.
“We were always trying to get Jacob involved in activities he would thrive in to build his confidence,” said his mother, Patricia.
The first reaction of Patricia and Christoper was that their son would never act in a play. That wasn’t Jacob’s desire. Although he was scared that he would not fit in with the other children, he decided to join the background and props crew.
“Jacob came home after his very first day excited and happier than I had seen him come home from school in a very long time,” said Patricia. “He said he had a great time and thought he might just fit in with this group.”
Within a few days, Jacob’s parents knew Creative Dramatics would be the place for their son. They were still surprised when he decided to chance an acting role in his second ‘season’ with the group. It was a smaller role. Patricia was concerned how Jacob’s tics would be accepted throughout the performance.
“Whenever I saw doubt or fear cross his face, I also saw love and support coming from the kids on stage with him,” she said.
His fellow actors would smile and encourage him with a gentle tap to his shoulder, telling him he was OK and doing great.
“That is what Mrs. McGilvra taught these kids; to love and support each other,” said Patricia.
When this year’s play called for one of the ‘actors’ to be afflicted with Tourette Syndrome, McGilvra wanted Jacob to tell his story, but she was concerned how doing so would affect him. She asked Jacob to not only help write the play but also take the role as his own.
Patricia sometimes sat in on the practices as an assistant. She was always amazed by the acceptance from the others involved and how McGilvra would interact with the students.
“I noticed how Mrs. McGilvra would talk to each of the kids like her equal,” said Patricia. “She really wanted to hear their ideas and thoughts. She made sure each child had the chance to share their ideas.”
Making sure each child has the opportunity to share his or her thoughts is one of McGilvra’s expectations. The emphasis of Creative Dramatics is the process of doing the play, not the presentation.
McGilvra’s handling of the co-curricular activity earned her the nomination of National Distinguished Educator for 2014 by Patricia.
Whether in her work as a special education aide or as an extra-curricular leader, inclusive practices are an integral part of Mrs. McGilvra’s everyday work,” said Patricia. “She truly goes above and beyond her expected salaried duties.”
Patricia said McGilvra reached out to educators at the junior high level regarding Jacob, emphasizing his strengths and talents.
McGilvra was ‘floored’ when told she had won the award. She had known Patricia nominated her, but never dreamed she would be chosen to receive the award. McGilvra was expecting the worst when Patricia called her one night, asking to see her.
“I thought for sure something had happened during practice that I hadn’t seen or heard about,” said McGilvra. “All Patty would tell me was that she and Jacob had to see me that night.”
The Johnsons arrived at McGilvra’s home with Denyelle Eberhardt, a mother who assists McGilvra with the group.
“Jacob wouldn’t look at me,” said McGilvra. “When he finally told me that I won, Patty said Jacob had a really hard time not telling me during practice and he only got through it by not looking at me.”
McGilvra was not able to be in Arlington, Va., to accept the award so someone accepted on her behalf and brought it to Wisconsin. Ellie Jarvie, board member of the Wisconsin board of directors for the Tourette Syndrome Association and is the director/support group leader for the northeastern Wisconsin chapter.
Jarvie was in attendance of both performances of Disabilities Shouldn’t Hurt. At the conclusion of the April 4 and 5 performances, Jarvie presented McGilvra with the award. The plaque can be found amongst the McGilvra family photos on the wall of the home.
“I have been doing TS advocacy work for more than 25 years,” said Jarvie. “Deb clearly has a special connection with Jacob and has worked to understand Tourette and help others to do the same.”
Jarvie said McGilvra is a catalyst for developing events that foster caring communities for all students.
“She truly helps youth with challenges of all sorts to be their best in everything they do,” said Jarvie.
McGilvra said plans were underway for the next play, almost as soon as the most recent had concluded.
“We’ll be doing Dorothy in Wonderland as a summer school play,” she said. “We got the royalty rights and the kids can’t wait. They have so many ideas.” 
Preprinted courtesy of Dodge County Pionier

“As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or honor, hurt or heal.”Haim Ginott

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