Debbie Amaral is the inaugural recipient of the Frances Fleming Award for inspirational achievement. Amaral, by all accounts an amazing person and educator, was honoured last week by the school board.
In her nomination of Amaral, Christa Rive, a support services teacher at Kinnikinnick Elementary School, outlined the educator's many contributions to School District No. 46.
Amaral, who retires this year after 35 years in education, leaves as district principal of special education. Rive spoke of Amaral's contributions to special education in glowing terms.
"As a result of Debbie's guidance and leadership, we as special education teachers are highly trained, current and creative in our practice," Rive said. "This is reflected in the high level of service provided to meet the unique needs of our students. We are inspired to providing excellence for our students through Debbie's strong mentorship."
Amaral was dumbfounded when she was chosen to receive this prestigious award.
"I was pretty shocked. I just looked around the room. 'Did they really say my name'?" she wondered.
Former school trustee Maureen Clayton, the daughter of Fleming, thinks Amaral is a marvelous choice for the award.
"When I heard it was Debbie, I can tell you I was pleased. Mom [Fleming] was a tremendous example to all our family. She was a quiet, unassuming person who went about breaking glass ceilings, and Debbie is the same kind of person," Clayton said.
Clayton gave kudos to Amaral for continuing her education and bringing high standards to local special education.
"I think my mom would have been thrilled. They've selected a good choice for the award," Clayton stated.
Brian Waplington, one of the members of the committee that unanimously chose Amaral for the award, described her as "someone who loved children, was always forgiving, someone who was always interested in the next step."
When Amaral came to the Sunshine Coast in 1980, she didn't have a job to come to. In the middle of September of that year, Stuart Hercus, then principal of Madeira Park Elementary School, called Amaral with the news that the school had just registered another special needs student, bringing the total enrollment to two, and asked if Amaral would like to teach them. So began an illustrious career.
Over the years, Amaral said, education really hasn't changed that much aside from the obvious technological advancements.
"There are still classrooms of 25 to 30 kids with a teacher at the front of the room. Really, of everything in our world, education has changed the least," she said.
On the whole, she said, special needs children are more accepted than they were 35 years ago.
Amaral laughed that she is teased a lot about her pre-planning tendencies. In 2001 she started planning for her upcoming retirement. She went back to the University of B.C. and first earned her master's degree and then doctorate so she could move into a second career. Next month she steps into her new calling as a registered psychologist on the Coast.
Mother to Amanda and Dustin and grandmother to Simone and Eloise White, Amaral also has strong family ties to the Coast.
Perhaps the strongest indication of Amaral's basic character is the quote she lives by: "People don't care how much we know until they know how much we care."
For her peers, students, parents and teachers following in her footsteps, it's obvious Amaral lives those words. She radiates inspirational achievement.