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Mary Hatfield's daughter wanted to go to school every day when she was in kindergarten. And she meant EVERY day.
"Even during vacation she said, 'Why can't we go to school?'" Hatfield said of Cornelia, now 7, a former student in Beth Horler's class at S. B. Butler Elementary School in Groton. "That's priceless."
It's this enthusiasm that helped Horler earn the title "Teacher of the Year" in Groton, and now, she's a nominee for the state designation.
"She gave them the gift of loving to learn, wanting to learn, doing their best and it wasn't a struggle," said Hatfield, who volunteers in Horler's classroom three mornings a week even though her daughter just finished first grade.
Horler, of Ledyard, has worked for 17 years for Groton Public schools. She's taught at Butler since 2003, previously taught at Pleasant Valley Elementary School, tutored special education students at Claude Chester Elementary School and taught home bound special education children. Prior to working for the district, she taught college courses at the Submarine Base in Groton, and middle school students at Sacred Heart School in Groton and St. Mary School in Jewett City.
In addition to teaching, Horler serves as president of the Groton Education Association, which represents 445 district teachers, and is a member of the Groton Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Groton Literacy Steering Committee, the District Leadership Team and the New London County Advisory Board for the Connecticut Education Association. She's also a member of the coordinating committee that mentors new teachers and is a past director of the New London County Connecticut Education Association Board of Directors.
"We don't know how she does it," said Pamela Porter, assistant principal at Butler. "We tell her, 'You've got to drop a committee'."
Horler has two children, ages 23 and 19, and has been married 26 years to Scott Horler, mentor for the Ledyard High School Robotics Team.
In January 2011, Scott Horler was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and battled for 19 months, enduring a bone marrow transplant. Beth Horler took a five-month medical leave to care for him. He is now cancer free and the couple renewed their wedding vows last summer.
The district supported them when they needed help, Beth Horler said.
"Groton Public Schools to me, it's not just a school system, it's a community," she said, adding that every day, she and her husband try to find one thing to be joyful about.
Lisa Zelepos, the paraprofessional assigned to Horler's class of 21 children, described Horler this way: "Even if there's a bad day, it's not a bad day in this classroom."
She said Horler takes it all in stride.
"She's very organized, she's very sweet and the kids love her," Zelepos said.
The children offered their own reasons.
"She has a lot of posters in her classroom," said Charlie Gianacoplos, 6. "And I really like it because I think it's really cool that you can just look up at the wall and you know what to do."
"She reads differently than other teachers," said Esme Carlebach, 6. "Like if they have wheels (in the book), she says, 'Let's make wheels.'"
Claire Butler, 6, said, "I like how she gives us math." Claire worked at her desk recently using plastic "seeds" on laminated pictures of watermelon to add and subtract.
Hatfield said Horler not only taught her daughter, but took care of her and instilled a joy of learning.
On the first day of school, Hatfield said, "My little Cornelia comes running out the door and she yells, 'That was the best day ever!'"