Every parent rightly feels great pride when their children reach milestones such as high school graduation. For our youngest child, Ruby, her June 7 graduation from Wisconsin Virtual Academy came with extra meaning.
A number of years ago, Ruby had to withdraw from our local public high school after being diagnosed at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin with a rare health issue. On many days, poor health kept her from being able to sit upright, much less be in a classroom environment. We remembered the online school system powered by K12, since her older brother Stevie attended online middle school. Using Wisconsin’s school choice program, we enrolled her at Wisconsin Virtual Academy, administered by the McFarland School District. It turned out to be a Godsend in so many ways.
The online school allowed Ruby the flexibility to do her schoolwork during times she was feeling good. She had great teachers and excellent support, provided using K12’s interactive internet-based school system. Online school requires strong discipline and organizational skills. It was at times a struggle, but Ruby thrived in the online learning environment. She had her own educational guardian angel named Tanya Steger, who watched over Ruby and kept her on track. Tanya used encouragement and positive reinforcement to help Ruby succeed in school. When rough patches came up, she steered Ruby to resources that helped her get caught up again. There was no scolding or shaming, but always cheerleading and positive solutions. WIVA should be proud to have such a caring, dedicated person like Tanya Steger on its staff. Ruby would not have made it without her.
Not only did Tanya help Ruby in school, but she nominated her for the Kohl Initiative Scholarship funded by the Kohl Educational Foundation. The foundation is run by former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, whose family founded Kohl’s food stores and Kohl’s department stores. Tanya wrote a very moving endorsement of Ruby’s work and the obstacles she overcame in completing high school. We were thrilled to later learn that Ruby was among the winners of the Kohl Initiative Scholarship. Tanya and WIVA administrator Cindy Worden drove to Middleton High School near Madison in late April for the scholarship banquet. It was announced at the banquet that Sen. Kohl was doubling the size of each scholarship from $5,000 to $10,000. What a blessing.
Sen. Kohl was very gracious and stayed for a long time after the banquet to pose for photos with award winners. When Ruby went on stage to get her photo taken, I showed the senator a snapshot taken in 2003 or 2004. He was pictured at the U.S. Capitol, standing next to Ruby’s grandfather, David D. Hanneman, then mayor of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The senator said he remembers Dave, which of course made the day even more special to us.
At the graduation ceremony held at McFarland High School on June 7, Tanya stood before the graduates and family members and talked about Ruby and how she came to excel at school in spite of her health. Ruby had tears in her eyes as she came onstage to give Tanya a hug. When it was Ruby’s turn to get her diploma, we all had some extra tears. Mostly tears of joy, but also of nostalgia, since Ruby is the baby in the family.
Such challenges and success! Ruby worked so hard to achieve her diploma. WIVA, its teachers, administrators and counselors, along with Ruby’s mom, deserve great credit for helping her reach graduation. This fall, Ruby will join older sister Samantha in enrolling at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Life goes on. And one father is so very proud.
©2017 The Hanneman Archive