March 6, 2020

‘Choose Joy’: God’s whisper leads teacher to a new path, bringing special gifts to her and her students

Amy Fix, this year’s recipient of the archdiocese’s highest honor for an educator, gets a hug from Ani Ximeyo Coyotl. The teacher at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis is also surrounded by other smiling Scecina students: Sammy Villanueva Pupo, left, Angel Anaya, Stephanie Meza, Katherine Guerra-Cordova, Edson Cuellar Mora and Thiago Rodrigues. (Submitted photo by Beth Murphy)

Amy Fix, this year’s recipient of the archdiocese’s highest honor for an educator, gets a hug from Ani Ximeyo Coyotl. The teacher at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis is also surrounded by other smiling Scecina students: Sammy Villanueva Pupo, left, Angel Anaya, Stephanie Meza, Katherine Guerra-Cordova, Edson Cuellar Mora and Thiago Rodrigues. (Submitted photo by Beth Murphy)

By John Shaughnessy

When Amy Fix steps into her bathroom every morning, she takes time to focus on the two words that have been stenciled on one of the walls: “Choose Joy.”

It’s a personal commitment that Fix strives to make to her husband, their two children and her students at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis. And two surprising stories show just how determined Fix is to pursue that goal in her life and her faith.

The first story comes from Father James Farrell—a story he shared at the beginning of a letter he wrote supporting Fix’s nomination for the archdiocese’s highest honor for an educator.

In the story, the pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis recalled the first time he became aware of Fix, a time when she emphatically challenged him for a choice he made following the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut—a tragedy in which a 20-year-old gunman shot and killed 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7, and six adult staff members.

“It was just after the shooting which took place in December 2012 that the Church was celebrating Gaudete Sunday,” Father Farrell recalled. “That Sunday—when normally we light a pink candle on the Advent wreath—I chose not to light the pink candle because it symbolized ‘Rejoicing.’

“I explained to the congregation that I could not rejoice in light of the shooting. Amy wrote me a letter challenging my comments on not being able to rejoice. She pointed out that the joy that Jesus brings into the world cannot be overcome by human activity. It is a joy that lasts forever. I was quite surprised by her grasp of true Christian joy and her willingness to share her thoughts with me.”

Since that first encounter, Fix and Father Farrell have developed a close friendship. He ended his letter of support for her by writing, “Amy demonstrates her Christian faith in every dimension of her life. Amy is a deeply committed person of faith and an excellent teacher.”

That story and that letter helped Fix to be chosen as this year’s recipient of the archdiocese’s Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award. (Related: Finalists for teaching honor come from throughout the archdiocese)

Then there is the other defining story of how Fix strives to “choose joy” in her life. It’s the story of her reaction when she suffered a stroke at the age of 40.

‘God was definitely watching out for me’

“I was just sitting at home when I got really dizzy and nauseous, and had a headache,” she recalls of that moment on Jan. 29, 2014. “But I didn’t get diagnosed for almost 48 hours. I didn’t know I was having a stroke. I feel really blessed. I feel that God was definitely watching out for me during that time. I didn’t have any outward symptoms. I thought I had vertigo.

“The next day when I was numb on the whole right side of my body, I was like, ‘This isn’t vertigo, this is something else.’ We got an MRI and a CAT scan, and it showed up.”

The tests showed she had a minor stroke that was related to “a tiny hole in her heart,” she says.

“It’s tiny enough that they felt like they didn’t want to repair it. I’m on aspirin and some other medications to try to keep a stroke from happening again. My doctor doesn’t feel it’s ever going to cause me an issue again. I still have some temperature sensitivity on my right side, some numbness, but nothing that gets in the way of what I want to do.”

Instead, she believes that incident led her to what God wanted her to do, what she says she was too scared to do—and that’s to make a change to teach in a Catholic school.

For the previous 14 years, she had taught Spanish in the Center Grove Community School system, an experience she enjoyed. But she felt God was calling her to teach and live her faith in a Catholic school setting. Yet before she made that move, she took a year off from teaching—a year during which she believes God gave her another plan, another gift.

In the summer after her stroke, her father became “really sick” from a combination of diabetes and congestive heart failure. By the middle of October, Mike Morgason moved from his home in Richmond to a specialty hospital in Indianapolis.

“He spent seven weeks there, and I was with him every day until he died, even if it was just tucking him in at night,” Fix says. “If I had been working, I never would have been able to spend that time with my dad. And I cherish that time with him. It was one of the best gifts ever. I can talk about it now without crying, and I couldn’t do that for a long time.”

To ‘see the face of God in every person’

Since the 2015-16 school year, Fix has felt God’s call at Scecina. There, the former high school cheerleading coach is now supporting and rooting for the 40 students she leads and teaches in the school’s English as a New Language program—a program that helps students from Latino, Chinese, Vietnamese and Brazilian backgrounds develop English skills in reading, writing, listening and speaking.

“They have different skill sets, backgrounds and personalities,” she says. “The Chinese students typically come in with good reading and writing, but not as good speaking because they’ve learned in a classroom. My Latino students typically are good speakers and listeners, but they’re not good readers and writers. They’re all mixed together—all grade levels, all English levels. Every day is different because everyone has a different need.”

What isn’t different is the difference that Fix tries to make in their lives. At the beginning of this school year, she wrote this mission statement for herself: “I will see the face of God in every person I encounter and empower them to develop their God-given strengths so that God’s will can be accomplished.”

“I want to empower my students so that they have a voice, as well as opportunities to grow in the way God wants them to grow,” says Fix, who also leads the school’s world languages department. “I want them to be proud of their heritage while also learning how they can make their way in this English-speaking country.”

This year, she is leading her students in a project about illiteracy, focusing on the benefits of early reading and the consequences of not being able to read. As part of that effort, the students have created flyers to educate parents, sought grants to publish a student-authored book, and visited pre-schools to read to children.

She also led about 70 students to the Latino Education Summit in Indianapolis in November. The summit, which included a college fair, helped the students and some of their parents realize there are opportunities for further study, scholarships and financial aid.

Fifteen-year-old Ani Ximeyo Coyotl participated in that summit and came away with the belief that she could go to college and pursue her dreams.

“We can go to school and be someone,” says Ani, the oldest of three children of parents from Mexico. “I want to be a businesswoman, have my own business and help my family out. I’m the oldest. They expect a lot from me. They tell me to keep going.”

She credits Fix with helping her get there.

“She’s nice, sweet, smart and she likes to help everyone,” Ani says. “She helps me a lot to improve my grades. I have A’s and B’s now.”

The face of Yulin Yang lights up when he talks about Fix.

“She’s my favorite teacher,” says the 18-year-old student from China who’s in his third year at Scecina. “Any time I need help, I go to her and she helps me.”

‘Joy is why we live’

Scecina’s interim principal David Dellacca describes Fix as the “daily champion and advocate” of her students.

“Amy sees in each student their God-given dignity and ability to succeed,” he notes. “She is invested in students’ lives, their heritage, their academic achievements, their mental health, their faith, their successes on the athletic field—truly their whole self and person.”

Fix sees her own growth in the six years since she believed that God was nudging her to make a change in her life.

“I’ve actually thanked God for all that a few times,” she says. “I give him a lot of glory and credit for that, because I recognize his hand. I want people to be aware of God’s whispers or shoves. We don’t always see it in the moment, but we have to be looking and say, ‘Ah, I see what you’re doing here. I see how it was orchestrated so beautifully.’

“I know that I have developed my relationship with God in a powerful way in the past six years.”

As she makes that point, her joy shows in her eyes and her smile.

“We have enough to be joyful about,” she says. “Even in the midst of difficulties, that joy sustains us. Joy is why we live.” †


Finalists for teaching honor come from throughout the archdiocese

While Amy Fix of Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis has been selected as this year’s recipient of the Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award, four other teachers were named as finalists for the highest honor for a Catholic educator in the archdiocese. Finalists also included:

Joe Pfennig—Cardinal Ritter High School in Indianapolis

Susan Schmuelling—St. Lawrence School in Lawrenceburg

Debra Shishman—St. Charles Borromeo School in Bloomington

Angela Toner—Roncalli High School in Indianapolis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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