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SPS United: Meet Joellyn Szura, lunch attendant at Gray Elementary

Nov. 29, 2023


“I taught for 29 years, with 25 of those years at Gray Elementary School. Gray is my home as an educator. The staff was and continues to be so positive, and the school was always a warm, inviting place to be. 

I was a first grade teacher, and I was trained as a reading recovery teacher to help support literacy into first grade, when reading is so pivotal. But then, first-graders came to me already reading because of the outstanding kindergarten team at Gray, and I didn’t get to teach reading as much anymore. I missed it. So in 2018, a spot opened up in kindergarten and I made the switch. I jumped down to kindergarten my last four years.

In 2022, I retired from teaching. When I left that May, I was really sad. That spring, a lot of my older students would come down to my classroom in the morning and say hello. I had built real relationships with my students, and they meant so much to me. That’s when I had the idea last year. I could come up, volunteer in the cafeteria on a Friday once every few weeks, and then I would get to see my students. It was so fun to see everybody, so when I saw that they were going to get a full-time lunch aide, I realized I could come back to Gray, see my kids and get paid for it.

I love the relationships I have with my students. I already have a connection with these students, and this is a way for me to continue it. It’s just two hours a day, but I get to spend them with my students. I’m able to make those connections, from past to present and the future of Gray Elementary. I wouldn’t want to be a lunchroom aide anywhere else, but I know I’d like to be here as long as my former students will be.

As teachers, we really do find a second home in the buildings where we serve. It can be hard to leave it, especially when you have more to give. I’m not always going to be a teacher, but for a few years, I can still be in my students’ lives, just in the cafeteria. That’s a wonderful place to be.”