Bryan native and Texas A&M University graduate Toni Varisco-Wright taught kindergarten at Henderson Elementary in Bryan for 17 years before searching for a change of pace.
After she applied to teach technology at Sam Rayburn Middle School in Bryan, Karla Enloe, then the dean of instruction at Sam Rayburn and parent of one of Varisco-Wright’s former students, told the principal that he had to hire her, despite her lack of experience with middle-school students.
“She is just one of those people that can teach anything at any grade level. She has a lot of hidden talents that she may not even know about,” Enloe said.
After several years in which she also coached basketball and volleyball at the school, Varisco-Wright began teaching theater at Sam Rayburn, and her class became so popular that her schedule soon was full with drama classes and she no longer was able to teach technology.
Enloe moved on to become principal at Roland Reynolds Elementary in Franklin and persuaded Varisco-Wright to teach drama in Franklin.
“Drama for children is really important because it teaches kids how to get along and different social skills because you may be acting with someone who doesn’t act the same way you do, but it teaches them to have patience and communicate,” Varisco-Wright said.
With a passion for lifelong learning, Varisco-Wright is specialized in many areas, one of which is reading. She is now a full-time reading interventionist at the Franklin school, helping students work on their reading skills through games, practice and phonetics.
“The biggest thing, whenever you are doing any type of teaching or intervention, I think, is to meet the kids on their individual level because everybody is different. ... One thing I learned [in college] was ‘you hear it, you forget. You see it, you remember. But if you do it, you understand,’” she said.
Varisco-Wright believes that if a teacher can relate to the students, children are going to want to learn from them and look up to them as an adult. Her personal experience struggling with dyslexia has given her insight into how kids may be feeling. She said she tells her students, “Even though you are having trouble reading, you are still going to grow up to be a successful adult. Look, I’m a teacher. People with dyslexia can grow up to be anything.”
Setting small goals for the classroom, from reading a certain book to learning a particular skill helps students master tiny, essential steps as they go, said Varisco-Wright, who continues to participate in theater instruction as acting director for school musicals.
“I believe that in life, if you can set and meet a little goal, it just keeps you going,” Varisco-Wright said. Her favorite part about teaching is “seeing the stars in their eyes when they finally meet a little goal or catch onto a skill, and they just get so excited about learning.”
Varisco-Wright said one of the hardest parts of her job is seeing some of the hardships that the students come to school with, most recently, the EF-3 tornado that struck Franklin on April 13 that affected many students personally.
“[The kids] love coming to school, and we just wanted to be their safe place. We kept everything very positive and let them tell us what they wanted us to know,” Varisco-Wright said.
Franklin residents became united following the disaster, pulling together to help in recovery efforts. Varisco-Wright said she sees that every day in Franklin, a town she describes as “the most friendly place ever.”