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Grams and her family. (Photo taken about six years ago.)

There is a certain level of professionalism to-be teachers must have when they take their spot in front of their first classroom of students.

For the educators within the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh College of Education and Human Services (COEHS), that level of professionalism is something they teach, talk about and stand behind. So when recently, a COEHS student was faced with a tragedy just a couple of weeks before taking her first formal spot at the front of the classroom she’d student teach in, faculty and staff stepped up to help.

UW Oshkosh student Joni Grams, a nontraditional student majoring in special education, lost her entire house to fire right around the holiday season, just a couple of weeks before beginning her final task before graduation in May—student teaching. Grams began student teaching last week at Ripon High School.

“Everything she had for student teaching was gone,” Associate Professor of Special Education Stacey Skoning said.

That’s when Assistant Professor of Special Education Teri Wegner stepped up and opened her closet to Grams. Skoning and Wegner really wanted to make sure Grams had everything she needed upon her first day of teaching; providing clothing so she could look and feel good was a small way they felt they could help. Other faculty and staff from the COEHS provided support to Grams, too, in the form of simply being supportive and lending an ear, Skoning said.

“I know it’s more than what we are supposed to do for our students, but we do it because we can,” Wegner said.

Skoning and Wegner describe Grams as “a good student who understands kids,” as someone who “will make a phenomenal special education teacher.” Grams was further described as “bubbly” and “driven,” even in times of personal tragedy.

“We do a lot of modeling of behavior here in the College of Education and Human Services—that becomes part of your life as an educator. We walk the walk and there is never a doubt when it comes to helping our students,” Wegner said.

Grams describes her experiences in the COEHS as being a part of a family; she’s thankful for the quick action of her professors during this hard time in her life.

“The professors at UW Oshkosh have a lot to offer and are really easy to work with. We aren’t just students to them, we are people,” Grams said. “It’s just so much like a family at UW Oshkosh.”

Beyond student teaching, Grams is busy—she’s married and a mom to three boys. And now, she’s also charged with recovering and guiding her family through rebuilding their lives; she’s skilled at finding the silver lining.

“The friendships and bonds I’ve made with these people are lifelong ones. They will always be in my heart and in my mind. That’s the blessing in this,” Grams said.

Skoning said it is a goal of the faculty and staff in the COEHS to create an environment where students are comfortable—something they believe in with their whole hearts.

“We want to create an environment where there is a safe place for students to always come. We do a lot of advising in the college, which means when things happen, students know where to go,” Skoning said.

“We are a collaborative department and we want to help our students succeed in whatever way we can. And we do,” Wegner said.

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