Students say they owe their success to Cherie Farrell
"Cherie is the type of person who makes you feel like you are a part of her family," said special-ed teacher Michelle Pearson, who has worked with Farrell for three years.
"Cherie is a slice of sunshine at Craig. When others seem to be walking under a cloud, Cherie can bring out the sun and make them smile," said Mike Kuehne, the former Craig principal.
Farrell is her third year at Craig, where she is an aide in the Behavioral Resource Room. It's a place where students can cool down or get work done.
She calms them down if they're upset. She helps them with schoolwork. She does more.
"I let them know there's someone there who cares," she said.
Her reward, Farrell said, is watching them grow and seeing them smile.
Kuehne said Farrell has turned angry, academically failing students into teens who make the grade and feel positive about their school.
One of those students is Precious Green, who graduated a year ago. Green said she wouldn't have made it without Farrell's support.
"I had some family problems, and she helped me through it and made me focus on school," Green recalled.
"I think she's very open and honest with all the kids, and she tries to get a connection with all of them," Green said. "It didn't feel like she was judging me or pressuring me, and the things she expected from me were very clear."
"We became very, very close. She's like a second mom to me," Green said.
Pearson said Farrell is always thinking of others: She volunteers for committees, convinces others to get involved and attends school events even when her own children are not participating.
"Cherie is a very giving and caring person. She and her husband sponsor other children whose parents may not be able to afford the fees for sports or be able to transport them to all the practices; she volunteers to pick them up," Pearson said.
Farrell organized a Secret Pal activity, convincing even some of the least-involved staff members to participate, Assistant Principal Monte Phillips said.
Farrell also organized a fundraiser for Parkinson's disease research last year after Kuehne was diagnosed with the disease.
The second annual Pace for Parkinson's is set for April 14 at Riverside Park.
It's likely Farrell's knack for reaching troubled teens comes from her mother, Teri Offerdahl, who raised her in a suburb south of Chicago and later in Eagle River.
"It was always an open door at my house, so if you knew someone who needed help, you helped," Farrell recalled. "She taught us as kids: You open your arms up for everybody. You don't judge anybody. Yes, maybe you've done wrong, but everybody deserves a second chance."