ELYRIA — Along Stacie Starr’s right forearm, there is a simple tattoo of ribbons looped into letters.
The design starts off in a delicate shade of green and symbolizes her mother’s battle 15 years ago with uterine cancer. The loops turn into a pale purple to mark Denise Lurry’s more recent fight with pancreatic cancer.
Together, the ribbons spell out “LIVE.” The word “mom” is delicately inked below.
In the coming weeks, the tattoo will fit in perfectly as Starr heads to New York City for a segment on the “Live With Kelly and Michael” show.
“My sister and I got this tattoo for my mom. It is a reminder not to be sad, but to get up every day, put a smile on my face and just live,” Starr said. “But it’s kind of cool because it can also say ‘live,’ like I’m going on the ‘Live With Kelly and Michael’ show.”
That’s because on Tuesday morning, the nationally syndicated show announced Starr was one of five finalists in its Top Teacher Search, a nationwide contest. A field of 12 semifinalists was narrowed to five with online voting from viewers.
The week of May 12, each finalist will be featured, one per day, and online voting will resume, where the grand prize is the glory of being top teacher and a 2015 Ford Escape.
Starr already was in tears Tuesday 10 minutes before the show moved to announce its five finalists. She was in her Elyria High School classroom surrounded by teachers, students and Maryann Verlotti, the mom whose letter started it all.
Lurry was in her home, but with Starr every step of the way via Facetime on an iPad.
“It doesn’t matter what they say. You will always be our star,” Principal Tom Jama said to Starr to calm her nerves.
Just before 10 a.m., Starr learned she was one step closer to being America’s star teacher, too.
The announcement came, and the entire room erupted in screams and cheers. Starr turned to her iPad.
“Mom, we did it,” she said. “We’re going to New York.”
Lurry said she never doubted her daughter would move on to the next step. Verlotti’s letter did the job of letting the show’s producers know all about Starr, but, as a mother, she said she has always known her daughter was something special.
“The day school would end, Stacie would start setting up play school for all the kids in the neighborhood,” she said. “She was always the teacher. She just has this special knack with kids. They love her.”
Starr said she’s not the kind of teacher to seek out the kind of praise Verlotti heaped upon her, but she also won’t apologize for being the kind of teacher whoconnects with kids. She couldn’t do her job any other way, she said.
“I can’t just not care,” she said. “All these kids want is for someone to care.”
Starr has been with Elyria Schools for 14 years and works as an intervention specialist. She spent multiple years at Northwood Middle School, where she also ran a mentoring program for boys as well as coached boys basketball.
One of those boys was Verlotti’s son, Dominic Zullo, 16. The teen has Asperger’s syndrome, and Starr took him under her wing, getting him introduced to basketball and encouraging him to speak up to his peers.
“She saved him,” Verlotti said.
Understandably, Verlotti and her son plan to accompany Starr to New York.