On Wednesday, Catrina “Abby” Sanic received her high school diploma from Grand Island Public School through the district’s Ombudsman program.
Sanic was the only graduate. Another highlight of the ceremony was it was Linda Sanders’ final Ombudsman graduation. She is retiring this month from her position as its director.
Sanic said it was a “big day for her.”
“Out of all of my family, I’m the first one to graduate in the United States,” she said. “It makes me happy as it accomplishes a dream I have always had since I was a little kid. I have made my family proud.”
At the ceremony were her parents and brothers and sisters.
Her parents are from Guatemala, where she was born. She came to the U.S. when she was 1 year old.
Sanic expressed gratitude for her chance to become a high school graduate.
For many of the kids in the Grand Island Public Schools, they may not have been able to graduate from high school in their home countries.
“It was really tough accomplishing this because I really didn’t like school,” Sanic said.
Like many sons and daughters of immigrant parents, she plans to attend college. She would like to be either a lawyer or a kindergarten teacher.
Sanders said Sanic’s graduation is a “special day and special accomplishment.”
Along with Sanic’s parents, at the ceremony were her elementary school teachers and others from the school district who have touched her life during her journey.
Also attending were Superintendent Tawana Grover, Bonnie Hinkle, president of the school board, and former Grand Island Public Schools superintendent Robert Winter.
Sanders said that speaks volumes of the commitment of the school system’s strong faith in the success of each of its students.
Quoting Dr. Seuss, Grover told Sanic, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”
She encouraged her to “stand out and be an example for others.”
Sanders has been with the Ombudsman program since its creation in Grand Island in 2009.
The Ombudsman graduation was at its office at 2300 N. Webb Road.
Sanders taught in the Grand Island Public Schools for 33 years before retiring. She came out of retirement in 2009 to work for the Ombudsman program.
Ombudsman is an alternative school run by the private company ChanceLight.
“They are an education and behavioral solutions company,” Sanders said. “We contract with the public schools.”
She said Ombudsman works with the district’s adjudicated youths — kids who have gotten in trouble with the court for truancy or other offenses. The program also serves expelled and long-term suspended students.
When Sanders retired from teaching, she was a substitute teacher for two years.
“I was desperate,” she said. “I was not good at being retired.”
Sanders was a middle school teacher during her 33-year career. Jeff Gilbertson, who was her principal at Barr Middle School, encouraged her to apply to the Ombudsman program. She became a teacher there and later was promoted to director.
Sanders will be moving to Virginia to be near her family, but she still has no plans to retire.
“I’m going to sub for a little while,” she said. “I’m hoping that next fall I will be working for their school district.”
Her daughter is a teacher there.
Sanders said working for the Ombudsman program “has been a great opportunity.”
“Every kid is different and every year is different,” she said. “Sometimes it is crazy. Sometimes it is calm. It is very rewarding, especially on graduation day when you see kids who would not have gotten a diploma if we had not been here. At first, they may not know what to do with that diploma, but they will be glad that they have it in the future.”
At the end of the term, the Ombudsman program holds its regular graduation. Sanders said it will graduate about 20 students in May.
As Ombudsman director, she estimated about 200 students have received their high school diploma since that first year. She said that was a highlight for her working there.
Stephanie Shaw will be the new Ombudsman director. She is from Roseland and received her teaching degree from Hastings College. She was previously a public school teacher in Nebraska.
Hinkle said that Sanders “has a very big heart and cares for children.”
“She came into this program at a time when we really needed to get it going and established,” she said. “She has done a wonderful job with it by the fact that we can say 200 kids have graduated from it. That says a lot about her and what she did, especially going out of retirement to do it. It takes a special person with patience and dedication and just believing in the kids to do it and she does it wonderfully.”
Sanders said her 33 years as a public school teacher helped her as Ombudsman director.
“They gave me some insights. Working with middle school students is different,” she said. “I loved working with them. I taught seventh grade for 25 years. Toward the end of my teaching career, I did some foster parenting. That also helped me learn some skills that worked. We don’t just work with the kids here, but we also work with their families. You have to be a good listener and know where they are coming from. We work with probation as well.
Each one of them has a different story.
Sanders has lived in Grand Island since 1975. Her parents retired from the military during her senior year of high school.
“Since first grade, I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “It worked and there is still some teaching in me.”
Published By: The Grand Island Indepedent
Author: Robert Pore