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Beyond the bell: A highlight of an after school coordinator

Union County Public Schools (UCPS) highly values its teachers and staff, recognizing their crucial role in the district's day-to-day operations. These dedicated professionals work tirelessly to ensure students receive the best learning experience. Among these exceptional individuals is Denise Fornshell, the after school program coordinator at Sandy Ridge Elementary. 

Fornshell did not initially plan on a career in education when she attended the University of Tampa. Despite having the opportunity to switch her major to English for a full scholarship, she declined after considering whether it would lead her to teaching. Instead, Fornshell pursued a degree as a surgical technologist and later relocated to Charlotte. However, the demanding hours of a hospital were incompatible with her family life, so she returned to school to earn a degree in elementary education, aligning her schedule with her children's. Over 30 years later, Fornshell still finds joy in her work, cherishing every moment. 

Fornshell finds it amusingly ironic now, reflecting on her initial reluctance to pursue teaching despite eventually finding her calling in education. She taught in private schools in K-3 classrooms for much of her career and has worked at UCPS since 2019.

"What I like most about my role as an after school coordinator is the autonomy we get," said Fornshell. "I have also developed great relationships at this school. One of my group leaders, Mr. David, was a substitute for our program, and I advised he might want to become permanent. He did and requested to be placed with me. I took that as such a compliment." 

Fornshell treats her group leaders with respect and as equals, valuing their input and expertise. This team approach builds a supportive and empowering environment for everyone.

"I do chores and other things right along with everyone else," she said. "No one is above anyone."

When Fornshell taught kindergarten, she often felt sorry for the students enrolled in extended-day programs because it meant more time at school. However, in her current role, she witnesses the genuine joy and enthusiasm the students exhibit while participating in the after school program. She said many of them want to stay when their parents come to pick them up. 

"That has been my biggest surprise that kids enjoy that extra time. It's a nice break from the school day and a way for them to have more time to socialize. We still have a schedule that includes time to work on their homework, outside play and crafts. Of course, snacks, which they love," she said. "It's also such a support system for the parents."

Fornshell has created a welcoming environment for all students in the program, and this year, she has focused on diversity to ensure that all students feel seen, heard and valued. She said the families have really embraced it and have helped her tremendously. 

"In October, we organized a Diwali celebration. Some students' moms came in to share the history, and we did crafts together. In December, we held a Hanukkah presentation. In January or February, we celebrated Chinese New Year with parent-led activities like viewing traditional Chinese clothes and decorations and learning a game using chopsticks," she explained.

Her monthly newsletters are also a hit. The families enjoy seeing the activities students have participated in and staying informed about upcoming events.

When she is not at school, she enjoys her two rescue pups, working on thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles and reading. 

"I'm probably an expert on the Holocaust and World War II at this point," she said. "I became interested because my dad was in the service under General Patton. He was in communications but did go in to liberate Buchenwald. There are articles about what he saw. It always intrigued me because it affected him."

She held a strong bond with her father and looked up to him. He inspired her to treat everyone with love and respect. 

"We were never rich, but we always had what we needed. We always came first for my dad. He taught me the importance of doing my best and to think about others before thinking of myself," she said. "If there is ever an issue, I like to talk things out to get all sides, so we can have a resolution. I am very fortunate to be in such a great school."

For more information about the UCPS after school programs, visit