Amy Steinly didn’t know how she was going to tell her Prairie Lake Elementary third-graders she was going to lose all the long hair she had at the beginning of the school year. She worried about looking different once the chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out while she was being treated for Stage 2 breast cancer.
Her principal, Robert Strenth, suggested they talk to her class together — and requested she shave his head in front of them.
“Ms. Steinly had come in and shared what was going on with her medically,” Strenth said. “One of the things she talked about was there were physical changes that were going to occur because of that. And to me it was, ‘Hey, I want to do something to show you you’re not alone. I’ll do whatever I can to be on that journey with you here at the school.’
Last month, they set up a chair in the classroom and wrapped a towel around Strenth’s shoulders — and Steinly was handed the electric clippers.
“It was done in my classroom as a way to explain to the students what was going to be occurring and what was going on,” Steinly said. “It was a great way for the students to understand what was going on and put a positive spin on everything. (But) I was a nervous wreck.”
The students, though, loved what was happening before them.
“The kids loved it,” she said. “They were excited to see his hair getting cut. They couldn’t believe he was allowing me to do that. It was a great experience.”
“I just did it to show her and talk to her class about community and family — and when people look different that it doesn’t impact who they are,” Strenth said. “Once I explained why, a lot of (the students) came up to me and said, ‘That’s great that you did that.’”
Steinly was diagnosed with breast cancer in July. After she finishes the chemotherapy treatments in November, she will undergo surgery.
She said Strenth’s support is heartwarming.
“I could not ask for a better boss,” she said. “He’s one of the main reasons I stay here. I drive quite a distance to work here. … He’s always been more than supportive with everything and anything I’ve needed through the years, from medical emergencies with the family to talking to him when things aren’t going the way I want them to.
“His door is always open, and he’s so supportive,” Steinly said.
The entire Prairie Lake faculty has put its support behind the teacher.
“They’ve all been amazing,” Steinly said. “Every time I walk into the hallways I’m greeted with a smile. It doesn’t matter who it is. … (They) were very adamant that they were going to be here to support me in whatever way I needed.”
She said she is grateful for the many gifts she has received, including daily well wishes, a blanket to use during chemotherapy sessions and a cookbook from a colleague who has a family member going through the same thing.
Laura Solverson, a teacher on the third-grade team, created pink Team Steinly T-shirts for the staff and faculty at Prairie Lake. The shirts will be worn weekly as long as Steinly is fighting cancer.
“She’s got a great grade level who has rallied to her support,” Strenth said. “They all let her know we are there for her — and whatever we can do for her as she goes through this challenge.
“(Amy) brings a compassion for her kids; she is constantly trying to seek out ways to teach her kids and reach them,” Strenth said. “I’m glad that she is a member of our family. That’s kind of how we approach everything at the school, and she’s a valued part of that.
“She’s here, and she’s working, and I can’t ask for anything more,” Strenth said. “She has a positive attitude about what’s going on.”