Melanie Stefanowicz Director’s Message – August, 2020


I’m the type of person who runs toward an emergency, not away from it.

I share that observation with you because in March, when the COVID-19 outbreak reached Central Florida, I took a leave of absence from my doctoral program in order to focus on the work of the school district. Not only would my teaching staff need intensive support as they transitioned their instructional model from the hands-on, lab driven environment to the online classroom, but district leaders would also begin the important planning for summer school and the impending fall re-opening of school buildings.

Our work would require great dedication and a laser focus on key priorities.

This time was (and is) extremely important for educators and I felt (and feel) my focus needed (and needs) to be targeted on my work. And though I changed roles mid-planning, the work in which my team and I have engaged to prepare for the fall session at Orange Technical College has been extremely important and has clearly been different from past years.

When I visited our campuses and classrooms this week as we reopened our buildings and welcomed our students back to class, I knew I made the right decision to defer my educational pursuits. The energy and buzz throughout the buildings was clearly evident: administrators, teachers, and students were all thrilled to be back to some – albeit new – normalcy.

As I walked the halls of the campuses, I spoke with students who shared their personal stories of how the pandemic has impacted their families, their desire to up-skill and re-enter the workforce, and their excitement to go to school. I spoke with one student about the unprecedented impacts of the virus on all walks of life – from those who lost jobs to those who still have jobs.

This student quite simply said, “I am out of work. What’s left to do? Go to school.” He went on to ask me to thank teachers for their service to our community and our youth and asked that we keep up the hard work as “it doesn’t go unnoticed.”

During that conversation, I was reminded of an important life lesson I learned many years ago:

Life is full of defining moments.

It’s not the moment that defines you, but rather, how you respond to that moment that defines the person you become.

And so, while I have been grappling with whether or not to return to my doctoral studies, the moments I shared with our OTC students this week have convinced me that the time to renew this work is right.

Talk about changing lives through education. This lesson is one I will value and cherish for years to come.

To the students with whom I spoke this week, thank you for reminding me of my #EssentialPotential. And I’m honored that we can help you rediscover yours.

Stay safe and healthy everyone.

Have a great CTE Day!