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Making the Ordinary Extraordinary
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Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

An avid traveler throughout much of her life, Amy Tomon’s résumé reads like a travelogue. The Parma Heights, Ohio native visited all 50 states by her 25th birthday and has been to destinations around the world. Now her journey has brought her to Notre Dame College where she is preparing to become a special education teacher.

Alaska

Amy’s road to teaching began as a national park ranger in Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle in the remote village of Kotzebue. During that time, she traveled to schools in different boroughs, teaching nature programs to students. “The schools were off the road system, so I flew out in a little plane and spent a day or two in each village,” she recalled.

Amy with local children outside Kotzebue Public Lands Information Center after a kids' hour program.After school, students would show Amy around their village, letting her see their lives up close. As she did, she struggled with conflicting thoughts. “I realized most of the kids would probably never leave. It’s where all their family is and all they’ve ever known. Most would be satisfied to grow up and be subsistence hunters or fishers like their fathers, so I would teach them practical things like bear safety,” she remembered. “But if I talked to them about things like alligators in Florida, they would say ‘What’s an alligator?’ Realistically, did they need to know? Then again, why should I deny them?”

Africa

Deeply affected by her time in Alaska, Amy’s desire to make a difference again led her abroad, this time as a Peace Corps volunteer. “It was bound to happen. Some people have so little, while others either don’t know or care. I felt it was important for me to help.”

With hands "henna-ed," Amy poses with her sisters and nieces in Senegal.Completing her volunteer training in 2004, Amy headed to her new ‘home’; a remote village in Senegal, south of the Sahara Desert. “I was the first volunteer at that site which was about 60 kilometers off the road system and 65k from the nearest town.”

Settling in to life in the village, she found herself drawn into the familiar setting of the village’s school. “One of my dearest friends was the school’s teacher, so I went into the classroom a few times to teach.”

As in Alaska, Amy found it easy to bond with the village children, but connecting with the adults was challenging. “The adults expected more of me and my language ability. The village was Moor, and they spoke a dialect of Arabic,” she said. “We would communicate using French as a middle language because the teacher and about two or three villagers spoke French.”

And like her encounters with village elders in Alaska, she heard some familiar questions. “They asked ‘Why does my kid need to read? They’re just going to do what I do.’ I realized that whether you are in Alaska or Africa or Cleveland, education is the key to any challenge we face,” said Amy. “Give me a problem, and I’ll say ‘educate.’”

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Amy poses with local women at a Maure meeting.To Amy, the connection between travel and teaching is more than being a tourist. “You have to get off the beaten path and see the small towns; meet people, hear their stories and have an experience. From that, you’ll develop insight and empathy.”

Through her stories and experiences, Amy hopes to inspire her students. “I’d like to show students what they can accomplish in life, whether it’s passing a test to graduate from high school or seeing the world,” she said. “Good teachers can take ordinary experiences and make them extraordinary. We can open students’ eyes and let them choose how one day they will make a difference.”

Steve Ruic is the writer and editor for Notre Dame College.