Tiara-topped and red-sash-wrapped, Debra Singley — with love and gratitude in her heart — happily bounced from car to car.
FORTY YEARS OF EDUCATIONAL GRATITUDE: DEBRA SINGLEY GETS HEARTFELT SENDOFF
Originally published by Quad-City Times on June 4, 2020.
Not even a face covering could mask her thousand-watt smile.
“We love you, Ms. Deb,” rang from vehicle after vehicle, a lengthy line of cars, stretching from the front of the Camelot Therapeutic Day School campus down a Moline-based frontage road.
On Wednesday, students, families, friends and colleagues bid Singley, a longtime teacher and school administrator, farewell with a lengthy and love-filled drive-by celebration. Today, after 40 years of guiding the lives of of young people in the Moline School and Camelot systems, respectively, Singley is retired.
“She’s the best,” Durant, Iowa’s, Logan Nelson, said from the backseat of his family’s SUV. “Nobody better.”
Nelson was one of the first students Singley met when Camelot opened its door six years ago, with her as its principal and lead administrator. Camelot works with students struggling academically and at risk of not not meeting promotion and graduation requirements. It also provides a more structured environment with individualized attention and behavior supports, and offers specialized programs for students with autistic and exceptional needs.
“Logan’s been with us from the start,” Singley said, lamenting the fact the past three months of her tenure featured COVID-19 pandemic-related e-learning, keeping her from her daily interaction with Camelot’s 90-plus students.
“I think the world of him and his family,” Singley said of the Nelsons. “Logan has a special place in my heart.”
To her peers and and the countless students she guided through a variety of jobs in education, Singley is kind, thoughtful, understanding and a die-hard advocate for young people. She possesses a great sense of humor, was compassionate about her mission as an educator and has always placed a premium on family.
Singley is, however, a poor detective.
“I’m in the building blowing up balloons for the celebration, and she has no idea it’s for us and the students to say goodbye and tell her how much she means to us,” said Kristi Loy, a fellow Camelot administrator. ”She’s brilliant, but she actually believed me when I told her I was blowing up balloons for the administration lunch we were having. She fell for it.”
As masked-and-gloved Camelot staffers passed out wrapped Olde Town Bakery cookies, Singley met every car, accepted cards, photos, drawn pictures and well-wishes. After giving 40 years to guiding the needs of young people — many along the way with special needs and understanding — her first retirement objective is simple.
“I’m a new grandmother, so that’s first, just enjoying that part of my life,” she said. “It’s amazing being a grandmother. It’s time to take a break, but you don’t do something like this all these years and not love it. I’ll miss the students and the people I have had the pleasure to get to know through the years. I really am lucky.”