Digging deep to bring her best

When Sophia Salome heard from her mother, Lt. Col. Zoe Ollinger of the Arizona Army National Guard, about the Arcadia News Teacher’s We Love award, Sophia picked up her smart phone and composed a nomination immediately.

Her favorite teacher, Mary Griffin, teaches seventh-grade religion and literature, as well as eighth-grade math at St. Theresa Catholic School. Sophia is in her second year with Mrs. Griffin and her younger brother, Andy, is in his first.

According to Ollinger, “My two kids are very different in their personalities and they both enjoy her so much.”

Hopeful to receive a kidney transplant soon, Mrs. Griffin undergoes dialysis at night so she can spend her days enriching the hearts and minds of her students.

Ollinger shared what she believes the students gain from Mrs. Griffin’s example. “They are seeing someone who has a true illness and can still have a positive attitude…Her classes are always fun. So, [they learn] not to sweat the small stuff as much, and try to always look at things in a positive way in life. As opposed to, ‘Life is so difficult. I’m not going to put forth my best effort.’ They are learning a lot of life’s lessons just listening to her teach and knowing what she is going through.”

Sophia shared, “I feel like Mrs. Griffin has a relationship with every single one of the students. I’m not just another student in her class. She has helped me through things.”

Colleague, Jackie Drummey had this to say about Mrs. Griffin, ”Mary goes the extra mile to help prepare the kids for the best possible opportunities for high school, offering study groups, reviewing for the entrance exams as part of her semester final review. She spends hours writing honest, thoughtful [letters of] recommendation and helps kids be aware of what they need to do to have choices in high school and beyond.”

The extra effort isn’t lost on her students.

“I’ve always liked school, but math has been my toughest subject,” Sophia said. “[Mrs. Griffin] makes it seem so easy. I don’t know how she does it. She relates to the kids. In literature and religion, I know so much more because her classes were interesting.”

Mrs. Griffin has had a desire since childhood to teach.

“Certain things happened in my life that kept steering me,” she said. “Every time I took a step toward teaching, it just made me happier and fulfilled.”

Mrs. Griffin’s father wanted to teach, but his parents had different ideas for him. Instead, he became an aerospace engineer.

She recalled that he was a great manager because he was such a good teacher. “It was something I always admired about him.”

Griffin has been teaching for 19 years, 18 of them at STCS. When asked what her father thought of her career choice, Griffin replied, “I think my dad was proud of the fact that I followed my heart.”