That was the word Gabriella Steinlicht kept coming back to. Validation for the actions she takes. Validation for the choices she’s made.
Steinlicht’s validation came in front of a sold out Salem Convention Center, along with the 14 other honorees and 88 nominees for the 2023 Crystal Apple Awards.
“It was just surreal, there was this powerful sense of love and respect,” Steinlicht said. “I felt really respected going through that experience.”
The Crystal Apple Awards, honoring Salem-Keizer educators, returned Friday night, Feb. 10, with all the glitz and glamor of a Hollywood awards show.
Nominees traversed the red carpet, stopping for interviews and photo ops as flash bulbs popped.
“I was in awe to be in a room full of other educators with amazing stories and to hear of the work they’re doing throughout Salem-Keizer and to think that others saw me worthy enough to earn such a high-esteemed recognition,” Steinlicht said. “I still can’t believe it.”
Steinlicht, an instructional assistant at Kennedy Elementary, has been at Kennedy and Salem-Keizer Public Schools for 14 years, and in education for more than 20 years. She now oversees recess, and is key in implementing systems for staff and student success.
But that wasn’t the initial path she saw for herself in education.
She originally thought her calling would be to work with special needs students, or as a bilingual educator initially out of high school. However, after what she estimates to have been more than 60 applications and no luck getting her foot in the door in special needs, Steinlicht pivoted her focus and started up part-time in Lake Labish.
When an opportunity in the kindergarten room at Kennedy came up, Steinlicht made her way down to Keizer.
“Nobody knew who I was for a few years,” Steinlicht said. “I wasn’t the recess person then and part-time. And I was out in the portables, no-man’s land as we used to say.”
There’s no more portables, her colleague’s certainly know who she is now, and the Crystal Apple is another validation that she made the right decision.
She’s been described as “a shoulder to lean on when staff are struggling,” by Kennedy fourth grade teacher Maegan Lamb in Steinlicht’s nomination form.
That shoulder seems to come easy for Steinlicht, who doesn’t seem to think too much goes into her positive relationships with colleagues.
“Listening and acknowledging them if they’re having a hard day, or even something as little as they got a haircut,” Steinlicht said. “Just noticing and acknowledging them by name. It also comes with having been here since 2009.”
In her 14 years at Kennedy, Steinlicht has seen some changes to her responsibilities.
In 2016, someone was needed to take the lead with organizing recess, and her team members felt she would be a good fit.
“It kind of started being semi-voluntold,” Steinlicht said. “Other classified members were telling me ‘you should do it, you’d be great at it.’ From then on, taking on that responsibility in a leadership capacity that affected all the children in the school and the teachers, there’s a couple of things I needed.”
Steinlicht needed order and planning. She wanted to remove the possibility of chaos from last minute changes.
She set up a schedule and system for recess on those all too common rainy Pacific Northwest days to ensure teachers knew what the plan was for each day, and not needing to scramble to have an activity when the weather didn’t permit.
But Steinlicht also implemented a larger plan for student safety.
“We practice drills for fire, earthquake, even our lock-down drills, but what if something was happening in the playground? The school system as a whole doesn’t have a system for what to do,” Steinlicht said.
And while luckily it hasn’t had to be implemented, Steinlicht is confident that both the students and her team will know what to do.
Even with the recognition and honor, Steinlicht stayed humble, pointing to all her colleagues at Kennedy as deserving.
“It’s really cool and awesome to have this recognition, but I’m just a speck in the totality, even within my own building and the team I work with,” Steinlicht said. “It’s just a really humbling experience that they think I’m worthy of this recognition and put the nomination in for me. Warms my heart and makes me a little bit emotional. The people that I work with, everyone here has their own gift and talent. Everybody has their niche, their little thing. We’re interwoven.”
Steinlicht also recognized the work and effort from the organizers of the event, appreciating the immense amount of time that must go into such a production.
“Everyone that was involved in organizing it, it takes a lot of hours, and probably beyond their work hours to make that event special for all of us. I’m very grateful and appreciative that they felt that these people in education were worthy of that recognition,” Steinlicht said. “Validation that even despite the hard times and the difficulties we’re encountering with students on a day-to-day basis, we’re still doing the right thing.”