ELWOOD – As a grade schooler, MaryBeth Brockley sat before a reel-to-reel tape recorder reading “The Three Little Pigs” to her speech pathologist, Mrs. Clark.
“And then she played it back. It sounded awful,” Brockley said. “I admired her most because she had store-bought dresses, and my mother made all of our dresses. I thought I could get that too, and eventually I did.”
It was those moments with Clark that led Brockley, who has been a speech pathologist at Elwood Elementary School for six years, to enter the field.
In April, Brockley was named the winner for grades kindergarten through six of the Max Beigh Enriching Education Award by the Anderson Noon Exchange Club. Hers is the third time in the award’s five-year history that a staffer from Elwood Elementary won.
The middle of five children, Brockley was born 66 years ago in Connersville to Harold Brockley, an assistant postmaster, and his wife, Gertrude Brockley, a teacher of fourth and fifth grades at St. Gabriel Catholic School. Family life was all about Sunday dinners together.
“I was picked on a lot as the middle kid, but that made me tougher,” she said. “We would sneak down to the mausoleum, which was a couple of doors down, because in the summertime, it was cooler.”
But tragedy struck the family when Brockley was in the sixth grade and her mother became ill. When Brockley was in the eighth grade, her mother died.
“When you lose your mother, you kind of lose your family traditions. Just losing your mother changes the dynamics of the family,” she said.
Ten months later, a sister was found dead in the bathtub following an epileptic seizure.
“After my sister died, I just lived in fear I might be next,” Brockley recalled. “I’d heard only the good die young. I was convinced the only way to stay alive was to be bad.”
Married with two children straight out of high school and influenced by her mother’s career as an educator, Brockley saved up her pennies to attend college at Ball State University and earn a degree in elementary education.
“I honestly love working with kids. I love the way children see the world,” she said. “I don’t think I ever spent time with a kid where a child couldn’t make me smile.”
Upon receiving her bachelor’s degree, she applied for a graduate assistantship but didn’t get it.
“That was at a time they thought you needed to be home with your kids,” she said.
However, that was about the time the federal government enacted special education laws that required more special education teachers. So Brockley gained an assistantship in the diagnostic learning center of Ball State’s special education department, adding emotional disabilities, mild cognitive disabilities and coursework toward a director’s license in special education to her growing areas of expertise.
She went on to work at the Burris Laboratory School and taught at Ball State.
“In between there, I had three more kids,” she said.”I was very happy in those years. We weren’t wealthy, but I had my family.”
Nine years ago, Brockley retired from education to take care of a daughter who had medical issues. But she just couldn’t stay away, contacting schools to offer to do long-term substitute teaching when permanent staff went on maternity leave.
While subbing in New Castle, Brockley was assigned to work with a boy who was burned in a house fire.
“I just knew then I wasn’t ready to retire,” she said. “I know the kids do as much for me as I do for them.”
The events of her own youth influence her empathy for students who struggle, Brockley said.
“I recognize that if students have had dramatic events occur, a certain date on a calendar, a certain object may make them not be able to communicate. I relate to that,” she said.
Brockley’s colleague, Elwood Elementary speech pathologist Linsey Lasiter said Brockley’s mentorship over the past six years helped shape her as a professional.
“I can say that I would not have been able to do this job without her,” Lasiter said. "Everyone knows if they have questions, she has answers. I think it means they know they have someone who will be there to encourage them, to help them, just because she is able to carry so many roles in this building.”
Elwood Elementary Principal Bev Groover said Brockley’s goldmine of knowledge is a resource for nearly everyone at the school.
“She just has a world of knowledge. She not only does speech and language pathology, she goes above and beyond because she has just a wealth of knowledge for all of us,” she said. “If there’s a topic, MaryBeth knows something about it. She’s amazing.”