Teaching Life

Published 10:43 am Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Varsity Cheer Coach Jean Coker and Captain Lauryn Schilleci are all grins thanks to Schilleci's published essay honoring Coker winning multiple awards. (Contributed)

Varsity Cheer Coach Jean Coker and Captain Lauryn Schilleci are all grins thanks to Schilleci’s published essay honoring Coker winning multiple awards. (Contributed)

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“WOW! I am crying now. Thanks so much for sharing this with me,” said PHS math teacher and cheer sponsor Jean Coker. This was Coker’s initial reaction to her varsity cheer captain Lauryn Schilleci’s first published work, which ran recently in “Teen Ink,” a national news magazine for high school students.

Just before Christmas, Schilleci wrote an essay titled “My Passion Continues” about Coker’s willingness to take on the varsity cheer coaching position two years ago when the current cheer coach took another job. When Schilleci first shared the essay with me, I knew she had written something special.

Working on edits over the holiday, Schilleci presented the final version for review the first Friday of the new semester. Lauryn Schilleci had crafted a beautiful essay in honor of her teacher.

“Lauryn, this may be the best essay you’ve written for me. We write our best when we write with passion. You must send this essay. I feel certain that it will be published,” I responded.

On Monday, Schilleci checked her email in my class.

“Mrs. Nolen, I got an email from ‘Teen Ink,’” Schilleci said excitedly. “They’re publishing my essay!”

Once Schilleci was published on the website, her essay won an Editors’ Choice Award. Within 24 hours, “Teen Ink” emailed Schilleci that her work was voted No. 1 on the website and would be moved to the front page.

What makes Schilleci’s essay about Coker so compelling? Schilleci wrote, “I want the world to know how amazing Mrs. Coker is and how her selfless volunteerism and her courage allowed our school to continue our proud tradition.”

“This essay is your legacy,” Coker said to Schilleci. “Because you’ve used your talent to put your emotions on paper, you’ll help the program grow. I’ll share your essay with other cheerleaders before their hard work begins—and they’ll know that you believed the work was worthwhile.”

Schilleci heads to the University of Alabama next fall. Coker remains at PHS to begin her 10th year of teaching and her third year of growing the cheerleading program.