Alva teacher named school district’s best
Chasey Niebrugge saw the cameras and county school officials coming her way, and even though she seemed to know they were coming for her and that it was good news, she couldn’t help but do what she always does – put the children first.
“Wait, I have to take care of this one here,” she said as an announcement was about to be made.
That announcement was that Niebrugge, a teacher of students with special needs at River Hall Elementary School in Alva, had been selected as Lee County School District Teacher of the Year in a surprise visit to the school on Tuesday.
Niebrugge, a II/ESE teacher, was chosen out of 49 teachers as this year’s Teacher of the Year. Elizebeth Vickery, assistant principal, nominated her, and described her as a talented, innovative and exemplary teacher.
“This is awesome. I wanted it for them because how far they have come is incredible,” Niebrugge said. “Being with these kids is where I was meant to be. This is my passion and true love. I wouldn’t want anything else.”
Superintendent Greg Adkins presented her with the award, along with flowers and lots of swag from local businesses such as food baskets and other prizes.
“All students can learn. It’s up to us to determine how each child learns best. That’s just a fantastic philosophy,” Adkins said. “We really appreciate what you do for these children.”
“You have changed the lives of the children in your classroom and the people around you. You lead by example and show people how to do what you do. That’s an extraordinary gift,” said School Board member Kathleen Morgan.
Niebrugge teaches “intense intervention” for students with special needs. Some of them are non-verbal, so she teaches the basics of how to be successful in their environment.
As Niebrugge was receiving her award, she seemed preoccupied with her kids as they were outside for gym class.
Also, she made sure to deflect some of the credit to her students, having Evanya Duperville, 9, stand in to represent the kids as photos were taken.
Niebrugge is a graduate of Estero High School and Delta State in Mississippi, where she played basketball and softball. She taught in Georgia and South Carolina a few years before settling in Florida.
Three years ago, she came to River Hall and was put in charge of the II/ESE program, where she took it from one that lacked resources and true inclusion into a thriving program.
“I started working with these kids three years ago. I knew I would make a difference,” Niebrugge said. “They’ve done all the great work, I’ve just helped them to see they can actually do it.”
It can be very difficult teaching children who have special needs, and the parents of the kids can understand that. They can also appreciate when that teacher inspires and connects with them.
“My son has been coming here for a few years and he has grown tremendously. She has amazing techniques and is very supportive,” said Daniel Bell, a parent of one of Niebrugge’s students. “She’s available any time of day or night to deal with issues I have. Lee County is fortunate to have her.”
“She knows each child is unique and she knows what each student wants and takes care of them in different ways,” said parent Yadira Diaz. “My son loves to come to school. He’s excited and ready to go. He doesn’t talk, but he communicates with her and she lets us know what he needs.”
Alice Barfield, River Hall principal, said Niebrugge’s all-hours approach makes her deserving of the accolades.
“She facilitates, she is all about her students, the most amazing person you’ll ever meet,” Barfield said. “Chasey is not concerned about the clock. She will be there for the students no matter how long it takes. She loves her students and she’s an advocate for them.”
Niebrugge will now represent Lee County in Florida’s Teacher of the Year program.
At River Hall Elementary School, 80 percent of the students are from Lehigh Acres, It also serves some from Alva, North Fort Myers, Fort Myers and Buckingham.