Dawn Sobleskey keeps in her classroom a ceramic coffee mug that has the words “family tree” emblazoned across the outside. Visible on the cup are the names of the sixth-grade teacher’s two children, Tim and Nikki. And dotted across it are the years her Godwin Heights Middle School students graduated from high school, starting with the class of 2004 through, so far, 2014.
Sobleskey considers her students as much a part of her family as her biological children.
“I tell them, ‘You’re my extended family,” she said. “I feel I can make a big difference with my students. I tell them from day one I’m their other mom.”
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SOURCE: Dawn Sobleskey
Sobleskey didn’t just happen to fall into education. She started her post-high school studies at Grand Rapids Community College in 1981. As an art major, she juggled the demands of a full-time class schedule with a 30-hour week as a waitress on the graveyard shift.
After two years of study, third shift restaurant work, writing research papers and juggling course work, lectures and tests, she put the brakes on her collegiate life.
“I basically burned out,” she said.
A few years after that, she married and started a family — and didn’t enroll in college again until more than 10 years later.
Made of Determined Stuff
Some people may never have enrolled in college again after that long a hiatus, but Sobleskey is made of more determined stuff.
“I always planned on going back,” she said. “As I got older, I decided I did want to be a teacher. I wanted to work with students. That desire came from when I was younger, helping young children as an assistant at Lowell Middle and High School. I caught the teacher’s bug that way.”
She enrolled at Aquinas College in 1993, and right away carried a full course load — 18 credits a semester — while working near full-time again as a third-shift waitress. It was stressful, to say the least, but Sobleskey kept her goal before her.
“I’d get out of work, write a research paper, go to lectures and sometimes get an hour of sleep,” she said.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies in 1995 and a master’s in education leadership in 2000 from Grand Valley State University.
“She’s my Motivation”
Now an 18-year teaching veteran with the Godwin Heights district, Sobleskey said those trying, often exhausting days as a college student paid off.
Brandon Mosley, 26, is glad his former fifth-grade teacher stuck it out. He said Sobleskey’s influence in his life has extended into his adulthood.
“She is my motivation to get my college degree and achieve my goals,” said Mosley, a 2008 Godwin High School graduate.
So far Mosely has earned an associate’s degree from ITT Tech, and is takingonline classes with plans to enroll in the fall at Grand Valley State University. Currently a security officer at Godwin Heights High School, he is considering a career as a state police officer or in sports management.
“Without her guiding me, I probably wouldn’t have my degree now,” Mosley said. “She’s taught me to be a good example in the school system and to speak positively into people’s lives.”