Crab Orchard Elementary School hired Justin Abbott to be their new principal in July of 2018. Mr. Abbott quickly learned that his dress shoes were not a good fit for his daily trek around COES. The journey from the cafeteria to the gymnasium alone is nearly a quarter mile hike and an administrator makes his rounds frequently, especially when learning your way around the new campus.
“It didn’t take long for me to start wearing my green Newton running shoes with my shirt, tie and dress pants,” said Mr. Abbott. One of the Crab Orchard Elementary staff members, Denise Nyborg, wasted no time calling Abbott out for his “trademark” look and began teasing him about his green shoes. The shoes started out as comfort over style, but turned into being both comfort and style.
Abbott said, “I would see Miss Denise in the halls or in her classroom and she would continue to call me out for my shoes, so I decided to up the ante and show off my sock flare as well. One day, she did the same thing and revealed she had on some crazy socks too.”
The Struggle is Real
Mr. Abbott recalled one week early in his career at COES that was going pretty rough. Nothing seemed to be going right and he was stressed out.
“I went to my mailbox at school and there was a pair of T-Rex socks in it. The socks read 'The Struggle is Real.' Having a hunch where the socks came from, I went and found Denise. She looked at me and mimicked short arms and a large body (like a T-Rex) and smiled. She encouraged me to push through the challenges and ensured me I had her support and the support of the staff at COES."
“That’s the kind of person Denise is, she is an encourager and she is thoughtful. She doesn’t light up rooms, she lights up buildings,” said Mr. Abbott.
Meet Miss Denise
Spend a few minutes with Denise Nyborg and you’ll quickly see that she is a thoughtful and positive person. Not only is she a boost for her co-workers, but for the students and the community of Crab Orchard too.
Miss Denise is a speech therapist for Lincoln County Schools. She has been with the district for 18 years, and primarily works at COES. However, she does work with students at LCHS too. She works with 62 different students on a weekly basis. On a typical day sees 25-30 students from all different grades. The students are put into small groups and switch every 30 minutes.
“My students are only with me for 30 minutes a day, so I feel like every one of them deserve to get the best of me in that 30 minutes. We maximize our time together,” said Miss Denise. “I want my kids to have good character and learn to be truthful and loyal people. That means more to me than learning to say the right sounds. I love walking by students and them asking if it is their day to be in my classroom.”
In addition to being a speech therapist, Denise also helps with the COES yearbook, is an academic team moderator, FRC Advisory Council member, strong supporter of PTO and a painter. She has helped paint numerous halls and walls around the school. The wall across the hall from her classroom has 300 sight words painted on it. She said she loves to hear the students walk by and practice their words.
Be Anything You Want to Be
She also painted some unique pictures in the boys' and girls' bathrooms. In the boys' bathroom there is a fireman, plumber, businessman and soccer player painted on the wall. Each picture has a mirror placed where the head of the person would be. The intent is to look into the mirror and see yourself as that person. “I just want to encourage students to dream big and aspire to do something with their lives. They can be anything they want to be in life with an education,” said Nyborg.
Another place she painted echoes this same message. It’s a flight of 5 steps with a different phrase on each step -"Which step will you reach today?", "I can do it", "I want to do it", "I’ll try to do it" and "I will do it."
Mr. Abbott said, “It's amazing when you can observe from the outside and know that the right person is in the right place, at just the right time. Given the unique needs of some of our students, it's awesome to think about how Denise arrived at this place, made connections the way she does, and provided just the right services for our kids and our families, based upon what they need.”
Sometimes it’s not about what the shoes and crazy socks look like, it's about making relationships and working as a team. And Denise does a great job teaching students they have meaning despite their shortcomings, and to keep striving to learn and do better in life.