By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

Sheila Morales, media specialist at Claggett Creek Middle School, felt guilty when she was nominated for one of the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation’s Crystal Apples.

“You could nominate anyone at this school,” Morales said. “Everybody here is so hardworking.”

But Morales’ colleague’s couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.

“The Claggett library is a sanctuary for students who don’t feel at home anywhere else in the school,” wrote Terra Shiffer, a former CCMS teacher. “It’s a place where hungry students come to get a snack, and exhausted teachers come for help with copying, laminating and all of their technology problems. One would think Sheila never got tired. She greets every library guest with a smile, and makes sure we are happy before we leave.”

Morales received one of 13 Crystal Apples out of 46 nominees at a red carpet ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 2 at Salem’s Historic Elsinore Theater.

“Just being there was awesome because you’re surrounded by so many great educators and people that have been in the district for 20-plus years,” Morales said. “Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, the time and energy they put into the event is amazing. They really make you feel special.”

Morales’ name was the second to last called at the Elsinore.

“When I went up there, I didn’t hear anything that was said,” Morales said. “My knees were buckling so I thought I was going to pass out. Just the whole time I was concentrating on not tipping over and thinking hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, so I can get off the stage. But it was so much fun. It’s just a beautiful event. I’ve been there for other staff members, being there for yourself, it’s different.”

Morales has been at Claggett for 14 years. She started out as an instructional assistant in social studies teacher Tina DeSantis’ classroom, working with struggling readers and writers.

“She learned about the students’ families and interests, which enabled her to suggest books they might connect with or writing topics, but more importantly, she knew who was fragile or having a bad day and needed gentle encouragement, and who wasn’t working to potential and needed some tough love,” DeSantis wrote of Morales.

Morales is in her fifth year as the librarian and after school program coordinator.

On Monday evenings, she manages Strengthening Families classes, in English and Spanish, that are designed to help families with children 10-15 years old work through difficult situations. Morales also sets up free childcare for younger siblings and provides dinner.

“I cannot tell you how many times I’ve called her on the phone on a Sunday and she is out grocery shopping and preparing for these dinners,” Rosio Contreras, community outreach coordinator at CCMS, wrote in her nomination letter.

Shiffer has also witnessed Morales hard at work on the weekends.

“Often on a Saturday or Sunday my routine takes me by Claggett Creek Middle School and just about every time I drive by I see Sheila’s black Ford in the parking lot,” Shiffer said.

Morales has also brought well-known authors to CCMS and worked with leadership students to decorate and organize games, prizes and secure chaperones for after school dances. She even acted as the disc jockey.

“Our students love ‘DJ Shay-Dogg’ better than any $150 an hour DJ we could have hired,” Shiffer said.

Conteras wrote what makes Morales so great at her job is her big heart.

“If a student needs shoes and she knows they can’t afford them, she finds a way to get them shoes. If a student needs a haircut, Sheila is right there to make sure these kids have what they need. Students love her, look up to her and confide in her.”

Morales loves being in the library because it gives her the opportunity to work with every kid in the school.

“Claggett is one of the best schools to work at,” Morales said. “I couldn’t see myself working anywhere else. Just the way that this community pulls together for family nights and book fairs and author visits, it’s just really great place to be at. The teachers really care about the students and so do the administrators.”