I think that the most interesting thing about Valparaiso is that though I have been in the area for quite a while, I still make discoveries and meet new people all of the time. There is a hidden gem revealed to me here and there and that has remained constant for as long as I can remember. So who is the hidden gem that I discovered this week? Her name is Kathy Levandoski, and she is A Valpo Life in the Spotlight.
Levandoski was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Her family moved to Valparaiso when she was in the fourth grade and she attended Cooks Corners Elementary School, Benjamin Franklin Middle School, and then Valparaiso High School. After graduating, Levandoski headed to the University of Wisconsin where she received her bachelor’s degree in Education. Later she received her master’s in Education from Purdue.
Why Education? Levandoski said that her parents were very influential as well as another person: Lorri Woycik. Remember her? Woycik is a Valpo Life in the Spotlight alumnus.
“When I was a sophomore in high school Lorrie Woycik asked if anyone was free one Saturday. I volunteered and she said, ‘You’re going to ski,’” Levandoski said. “So she taught me to ski in like, ten minutes and I spent that day taking kids on the ski slopes for the Special Olympics!”
After that, Levandoski stayed involved with the Special Olympics for several years. This had a significant impact on the course of her life and career.
Levandoski was a very active student, playing all sorts of sports throughout her college career. But she had to give up the sports and stay an extra semester because the university did not want sports interfering with her student teaching. This turned out to be very beneficial because Levandoski was able to concentrate solely on student teaching throughout the semester. Others must have seen the benefits because two days after graduating, Levandoski interviewed and landed a maternity leave position at Kankakee Valley Middle School. She taught Special Education there for four years before coming to the Valpo School System when she has remained ever since.
In Valpo, Levandoski taught Special Education and was the athletic trainer at both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson Middle Schools, then she moved to Valparaiso High School and continues the same duties to this day. She also coached Varsity Softball and was the Assistant Coach of the Varsity Girls Basketball team for many years.
“I loved sports my whole life, so seemed a natural fit. Coaching is teaching. And I love teaching,” Levandoski said. “You get to see somebody from the start, then making progress and a lot of times mastering a skill or a concept or at least making progress. It’s neat to see how everybody reacts individually. It’s never the same from one kid to the next.”
In her free time, which Levandoski admits to not have much of, she enjoys working out, volunteering at her church and spending time with her family. This year was the first time in her life that she was free on Thanksgiving! There’s a first time for everything, I suppose.
Since coming to Valpo at such a young age, Levandoski has held the city close to her heart.
"It’s a neat place to grow up in. The schools were awesome. I was well-prepared for college. Since I teach special education, I have many autistic students. It’s wonderful to see how well the other students treat them. Normally, people are afraid of special needs kids at first, but not at Valpo. It makes me proud to teach here,” Levandoski said.
Levandoski’s heart came out in her words while she spoke to me. I asked her for a piece of advice that she’d like to pass on to readers, and this is what she said.
“Work hard because that can get you everywhere whether in sports, the classroom or your career. If you work hard nothing can replace that,” Levandoski said. “Keep trying. Many students sell themselves short. My favorite example is from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life – when Uncle Billy falls down and clatters on the floor, then gets right back up and says, ‘I’m all right! I’m all right!’”
You’re picturing that scene aren’t you? And if you haven’t seen the movie then you are curious about it. I pictured it. That’s the teacher in Levandoski coming out, putting things into perspective so that it will have the most positive and meaningful impact. This is why Kathy Levandoski is a Valpo Life in the Spotlight.
To find out more about the Special Education Department at VHS, click here!