“The best school in Raleigh.” These words were spoken to The Franciscan School Counselor Laureen Wacenske 22 years ago as she was deciding where to send her son to kindergarten. The advice came from a dear friend and teacher at Cardinal Gibbons. TFS was being built just across the street from her home, but Wacenske knew she wanted to be a part of this incredible new school. Not only did she apply for a kindergarten spot, but she also applied to be a teacher. And after 21 years, Wacenske is now one of the longest-standing staff members at TFS, instilling hope and love in students’ lives each year.
Wacenske’s career began in the Peer Counseling Program at Millbrook High School. During this time, she encountered a challenging situation as a teacher, which propelled her passion to help students in need. A few years later, Wacenske was a part of the inaugural first year at TFS, spending her first 6 years in kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms. “Being in the classroom was pivotal for understanding all stakeholders - parents, students, and teachers,” she says. Now, as TFS’s School Counselor, Wacenske gets to work with students to help them feel loved, that they matter, and that TFS is a better place because they are a part of it.
One particular student, Brianna Niemic, remained on Wacenske’s heart for years after she taught her in 1st grade. Wacenske finished that school year unsure if Brianna felt she was loved and that she mattered. In fact, Wacenske kept Brianna’s picture on her wall to remember to pray for her each day. Brianna was quiet, but Wacenske said it was important that Brianna knew she was loved. Fourteen years after she was in Wacenske's class, Brianna showed up at TFS to thank Wacenske for her support and guidance. Today, Brianna travels around the world doing mission work and aspires to become a teacher. She told Wacenske that yes, she felt loved, and that “I’m sure you’ve made many students, days, weeks, and overall lives so much brighter and better.” This touched Wacenske deeply, as she receives great joy watching the ripple effect in her past students as they reflect the hands and heart of God.
This past year has proven to be the most interesting and most challenging for many reasons. Before the school year started, Wacenske was trying to figure out a way to stand out to new students as they navigated the halls for the first time, particularly with everyone wearing masks. Wacenske donned a bright orange life preserver and carried a classroom map to show students around and help them feel welcomed. But the life preserver became so much more. Wacenske said it became “a symbol of hope, that we are in this together and we are staying afloat. I love to think of it as affirmation that it’s been a tough year, but we will be stronger for it.” Wacenske saw many positives from this year, including the bravery and courageous spirit exemplified by students, even the youngest kindergartners. “Students rose to the occasion and had to do tough things, but they served the school and the community so well.”
Principal Mike Watson recognizes Wacenske’s endless dedication: "Mrs. Wacenske has been here from the beginning of the school, and you couldn't find another person who is more responsible for creating the loving environment here at The Franciscan School. Her devotion to our students, her role in assuring their academic and social success, and her advocacy for those students who struggle exemplify our mission and all we have created and continue to develop, here. She truly lives our mission every day."
But in Wacenske’s humble eyes, she simply says, “I have the best job in the world.”