COOS BAY — Every August, first grade students in Nicole Ault’s Blossom Gulch classroom receive a letter with a poem and “ready confetti” to help them prepare for the first day of school.
The poem tells these new students to sprinkle the confetti on their pillow to feel ready for a great year.
“I’ve been told that kids have taken the ready confetti and put it under their mattress so they are ready all the time,” Ault said. “It’s amazing how a small gesture can make a big difference.”
One parent remembered their child being supported like this as they nominated Ault for the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year Award. Not only did Ault win as overall Educator of the Year, but also won the Unsung Hero Award for making a difference in a child’s life which helped them reach graduation.
According to Ault, this parent also highlighted how she continuously supports her students through high school by checking in on them and showing up at their events.
“I fall in love with them,” Ault laughed.
Her first teaching job out of college was at Eastside in the Coos Bay School District, but left with her husband to teach in Eugene. When they returned, her second graders from Eastside were in high school so she began attending graduations for every class she had taught.
“As a teacher, you take on that parenting role while they are here,” she explained. “If they need a Band-Aid, they come to you. That’s me. I’m the mom at school.”
Initially when she started teaching, Ault never thought of herself that way until one year an international family put their child in her class. When the student’s mother dropped her off, she knelt to speak to her daughter and introduced Ault as “her mom at school.”
“I do have that responsibility for these kids and care for them like they are my own,” she said. “I am excited when I see them at their recital or performances around town. A lot of times it’s me doing things in my community anyway, but I have the same sense of pride when I see them as if they are my Ault children.”
Ault remembered always wanting to help children, but it wasn’t until she was 18 and a senior in high school that a friend’s mom invited her to be a cadet in her classroom at Milner Crest.
“I went there every day for two periods,” she said. “I was hooked. It was easy for me to decide what to do.”
Over the past two decades of teaching, Ault pointed to one student from her old Eastside class that stood out as being someone she may have helped the most.
“When she was my second grader, my husband and I took her to the movies to see Toy Story because she had never been,” she said. “Another teacher took her to the beach because she had been here her whole life but had never seen the ocean.”
It took a few years for people to know what this student was enduring at home and get placed into a safe one. But when Ault returned from Eugene, she found this student was thriving. She had become the star of the cross-country team and was successful academically.
“She is the most resilient person I know,” Ault said.
Recently, this student reached out to her through social media, having moved with her family to Florida.
“She asked me, ‘Do you remember that Christmas?’” Ault said, referring to one Christmas where she and her husband were involved in a program to help second graders shop for their families and Ault asked to help this student. “She remembered it as the best Christmas she had until she was placed into a better home and asked if she was dreaming it? She said she kept remembering this happen and that I was always in it.”
Ault knows how difficult it is for young children to remember teachers who push and inspire them because “a lot of times in the younger years, it gets fuzzy and they don’t always remember,” she said. “My motto has just always been to love them lots and help them believe in themselves because if that is ingrained in them, it carries forward. If they remember me, I’d say I’m doing okay.”
When Ault stood to receive the Educator of the Year Award, she found it rewarding to be in front of a couple hundred people where she recognized parents who smiled and nodded.
“It’s not just that I look good on paper, but there are a lot of people that were agreeing I had somehow helped them,” she said. “It is really fulfilling. I would do this forever if I could.”