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Friday, 14 March 2014 00:00

St. Andrews teachers rally around one of their own

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A photo posted on the St. Andrews Facebook page shows students in a display of support for one of their teachers. A photo posted on the St. Andrews Facebook page shows students in a display of support for one of their teachers.

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Late last month on the day third-grade teacher Michele Raykovich was scheduled for breast cancer surgery, the students at St. Andrew’s Parish Elementary School in Delavan where she teaches came together to form a living awareness ribbon in the school gym.

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Pink dominated the winding line: knit caps and headbands, jackets and leggings -- some boys even sported pink T-shirts and polo shirts -- down to dabs of pink face paint. The photo went out on St. Andrew’s school Facebook page, with the caption, "For you, Mrs. Raykovich."

Deb Amici, an eighth-grade teacher at the school who got the idea for the ribbon, said Raykovich saw the line before she went to the hospital later that morning and it brought tears to her eyes.

"That carried her," Amici said. "You feel loved and valued (by) that kind of human touch."

Amici, Raykovich and Nikki Marsicano, an arts teacher at the school, have developed a friendship over the years at St. Andrew’s. Amici has been teaching there since 1987. Raykovich came in 1992, and Marsicano in 1990.

The three women found good company in each other, getting together for lunch or a movie. But they also forged ties that run deeper.

After a 15-year battle with lymphoma that began when he was diagnosed in his early 40s, Amici’s husband, Craig, died three years ago.

"Michele pretty much saved my life," Amici said. "She drove me to the hospital in Madison when I couldn’t drive. I probably lived at her house the first year after my husband died. On weekends, I was afraid to be alone. Michele made sure I ate. She took me if I needed to go to my support groups.

"(She was one of) those people in your life that you don’t know what you’d do without them. You’re not blood-related, but you’re family."

Amici and Marsicano helped Raykovich deal with a breast cancer diagnosis and surgery six years ago. And they were there this time.

Amici said up to her surgery, Raykovich prepared for the substitute who’ll be teaching her class while she’s recuperating. She wrote notes about all her students for the sub, worked ahead on lesson plans, and sent a letter home to parents, letting them know what was going on.

"She’s like a second mother to the children in her classroom," said Andy Thone, a parent who volunteers at the school. "She’s very nurturing and warm, and she’s doing exactly what she was meant to do."

Avery Hembrook, an 18-year-old senior at Delavan-Darien High School, was a third-grader in Raykovich’s classroom. Hembrook remembers an engaging teacher who had her students board a pretend plane to Australia and Japan when they studied those countries.

Hembrook asked Raykovich to be her confirmation sponsor. And when Hembrook attends the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse this fall, Hembrook will be majoring in early childhood education -- thanks to the inspiration of her third-grade teacher.

St. Andrew’s students made dozens of cards and participated in a prayer chain for their teacher.

Amici and Marsicano share updates with kids at school, and Amici said Raykovich will be back teaching.

Meanwhile, Raykovich is feeling the love from her school community.

In last week’s school newsletter, she wrote, "I have been very touched by your love and prayers and one thing I know for sure is that you have all been angels guiding me through these last several weeks.

"I am so fortunate to be a member of this very loving and Christian community."

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