Teacher Stories: Joy Danelson, 4th Grade, Silver Bay Elementary School, Toms River

Author’s note: This interview was arranged as a surprise tribute to Silver Bay Elementary School teacher, Mrs. Joy Danelson, who went above and beyond as she helped her 3rd grade student, Emma Finelli, while she battled and recovered from cancer.

Emma’s mom, Jamie Finelli: “Emma got sick last February while she was in 3rd grade. She was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a kidney cancer.  She had a full kidney removal that February. She was considered stage 4 since it spread to her lungs. She had a very strong chemo regimen, and then she did 8 days of radiation and had to get treatment for cancer. During her recovery, we were assigned a homebound instructor, a 4th grade teacher at Silver Bay Elementary School, Mrs. Danelson.  Mrs. Danelson was so great. She came over to our house every day when Emma was feeling good, and she got Emma caught up with everything. When Emma wasn’t feeling well, Mrs. Danelson would help her make up the work the next time she saw her. What I really appreciated about Mrs. Danelson was that she really connected with Emma.

Emma started chemo in February of 2021, and she finished her treatment September of 2021. Then we had to get clearance to have Emma go back to school. In October of 2021 Emma came back to school, and since she was at that point in 4th grade, it made sense for Emma to stay with Mrs. Danelson since she was a 4th grade teacher. Mrs. Danelson continued to be so great: she stayed connected with Emma, made sure she was on top of her work, and helped Emma to have a great transition back to school, since she had been out for so long between treatment and Covid.

Emma is doing really well now. She has checkups every three months. Her scans are good, and we are so grateful. Every three months for the next three years, she has to be scanned, then every 6 months for the two years following that, Emma still has many doctors’ appointments, and Mrs. Danelson would continue to come by and see her to make sure she was doing well with her schoolwork. She would come by at Christmastime, and she really became like a part of our family because she was there so much and was such a part of Emma’s life. We could not be more grateful for her.

Mrs. Danelson was always so positive: and not just with Emma, but even with me. If I were having a hard day, she would be so kind to me and so positive for me. For example, I was nervous about Emma going back to school after everything, and she was so reassuring, telling me Emma is going to do great, she will look after her, she is not going to let anything happen to her, and it’s going to be fine. She would write little inspiring letters to Emma, or bring little gifts for her, as well as her brother and sister, and make them feel included. She would do anything and everything she could to help Emma feel connected. Mrs. Danelson just makes everything better.

Interview by Gregory Andrus

Portraits of the Jersey Shore



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