The tragedy last December at Sandy Hook Elementary wrought an undeniable sorrow on the nation. Millions continue to mourn the innocent children and adults who were unjustifiably taken away from their friends, family, and communities.

In the wake of this tragedy, we would like to recall a story we covered in September, when teacher education alum Derrick Schonauer ’12 acted heroically in the face of gun violence in school. This month, Illinois State is honored to share another inspiring story from its alumni and aspiring educators who have demonstrated tremendous courage and character during this challenging time.

Student teachers Bria Pilkinton ’12 and Kylee Nosalik’s ’12 first professional teaching experience will be marked by this tragedy and the trying times that came in its wake.

In the week after their December 15 graduation from Illinois State University in special education, traditionally a time earmarked for celebration, Pilkinton and Nosalik responded to a call for help from their former student teaching placement in Aurora.

Citing a need for additional support for students and families at the Fox Tech and Trade Center, their former principal offered them the opportunity to continue with the school for an additional week. Pilkinton and Nosalik jumped at the opportunity to stay on.

“We had grown a close relationship with both students and staff. We wanted to come back, whether it was helping with staff or one-on-one with the students,” said Pilkinton.

“(Sandy Hook) was traumatic for all that heard about it,” said Nosalik. “Kids were worried about it, and it was important for us to show our support and to be there for them.”

Though it took just a week of their time, Pilkinton and Nosalik believe their commitment to stay had an impact on their students’ perspectives.

“They realized that, first and foremost, we are adults who have their back and will keep them safe,” said Pilkinton.

In a semester filled with ups and downs, Kelly Maher, their Illinois State student teaching supervisor, was thoroughly impressed by the character the students demonstrated through adversity.

“There were times that both Bria and Kylee were challenged in ways many Illinois State student teachers could only imagine. Yet, despite these sometimes daily obstacles, they faced their learners with the dedication and commitment we at ISU strive for,” said Maher.

At the end of the additional week, the teacher candidates found that their students were not ready for their connection to them to be over—and the feeling was mutual. This is why they made a commitment to continue their connection with them. As it turns out, Pilkinton and Nosalik were offered jobs next door at Aurora Education Center, where they work with K-21 special education students.

“Each and every day they arrived with the commitment to impact the lives of learners,” said Maher. “I truly believe the world of education is a better place now that Bria and Kylee have become certified teachers.”