Teacher of the Year is at the head of the class




Stacy Willett, a 21-year veteran in Riley’s education program, was recognized today, but she said it’s an award she shares with the entire team.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

She thought she was walking into a meeting, but Stacy Willett walked into a celebration Monday morning – a celebration planned for her.

Willett received the Riley Children’s Health Teacher of the Year Award in collaboration with the Indiana Department of Education, a first for the 21-year Riley teacher.

Stacy Willett teacher of the year

Madison Stewart, manager of the school program, described Willett as “a dedicated and compassionate team member … the type of team member I wish we could clone for all departments.”

Amid the school program restructuring over the past year, Willett, who focuses on inpatient and outpatient leukemia/lymphoma and inpatient cystic fibrosis, has “completely risen to the occasion,” Stewart said, describing her as “a very dedicated educator.”

“It’s only fitting and a long time coming for you to be our teacher of the year,” Stewart told the teacher, presenting her with a plaque and flowers.

Stacy Willett teacher of the year

For her part, Willett was taken aback by the surprise and the crowd of fellow educators and team members, as well as her husband, Tim, who gathered in a conference room to wish her well.

“I’m so honored to be the teacher of the year for Riley Hospital for Children, but I really think our team deserves that recognition,” she said. “They should all be up here with me.”

Willett said she feels “blessed and thankful” to come to work every day, “getting to support our patients and families and walk the journey with them.”

Stacy Willett teacher of the year

She and her colleagues focus on relieving some of the stress families feel when they first come to Riley, get news of a serious diagnosis, then wonder how they are supposed to help their child keep up with schoolwork. Not only do the educational liaisons work directly with patients in elementary and high school, they also coordinate services with the child’s home school district.

Willett began her career in education as a developmental therapist with First Steps, before joining Riley as an instructional assistant 21 years ago. At that time, there was one other teacher on staff at Riley. In the fall of that same year, she transitioned into an educational liaison (teacher) role. Currently, there are seven on the team.

When she was In school, she had considered special education and physical/occupational therapy as career options, she said, “so it’s cool to me that I’m doing education, and special ed within that, but also within a medical setting.”

“I was definitely born to be a teacher, and it’s just amazing to me that I have this opportunity to come in and do this job and support so many of our kiddos in the state of Indiana and surrounding states.”

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org