How support teacher at St Albans' Samuel Ryder Academy overcame cancer to carry on supporting school children
©2016 Cathy Benucci Photography
As a support teacher, Naima Ech-Chadli's goal in life is to give her school's most vulnerable children the skills they need to overcome the toughest hurdles in life.
However when it comes to dealing with life’s struggles, the Samuel Ryder Academy teacher is perhaps better equipped than most.
While the winner of the Unsung Hero category at this year’s Herts Advertiser School Awards has put her heart and soul into helping young people, she has battled breast cancer.
And as if that was not enough, Mrs Ech-Chadli has also donated a kidney to her son to help him survive organ failure.
She could be forgiven for feeling bruised by life and wanting to take a break.
However the resilient 57-year-old simply said: “It’s life. There are people worse off than me.
“I never take life for granted. It’s a hurdle which is testing my resilience and how I overcome those hurdles.
“Obstacles are put there for a reason but you’ve always got to be willing to rise above them.”
Mrs Ech-Chadli has been working as a member of her school’s support staff for 16 years.
She has taken on various roles over the years, starting by supporting young people for whom English was not their first language before her job evolved into assessing young people’s needs at school.
She then works with teachers to ensure they get the help they need in the classroom.
Mrs Ech-Chadli describes it as a “huge responsibility” but said: “I do enjoy it.
“I’m a positive person and I don’t really look at the negative. If there are negatives, then I try to look behind it.
“Sometimes they can’t see what they’ve got, because they only focus on the negatives or bad points. We don’t really look at the good things we’ve got within us.”
Mrs Ech-Chadli believes her patient approach means she is good at getting through to the young people she works with.
She believes the key to working with young people is to “give them example of real life scenarios and compare that to their own lives”.
She explained: “They’re not going to stay teenagers forever. You’ve got to give them that aspiration of what’s your dream job.”
Speaking about her battle against cancer eight years ago, she said: “It was a tough moment but we all have something within us that helps us to battle on.
“My children are important to me and I wanted to see them in the future. I thought: ‘I can overcome this. It’s not going to kill me.’
“I was determined to come back to work and not let it beat me.”
She also said the time of her son’s kidney failure was a hard time for the family but that she was pleased she was able to donate a kidney and help her son.
Speaking about winning the unsung hero award, she said: “I was surprised and delighted.
“It was lovely to be recognised for what I do and I was really grateful. I’m just one of those people who gets on with my job.
“I enjoy a challenge and have been challenged all my life. One of the reasons I’m doing what I do in school is because I love the learning environment – that’s why I’m in the job I’m in.”
Held every year, the Herts Advertiser School Awards is designed to mark the role schools play in the community and reward the efforts of staff and young people who are making an outstanding contribution to education.
This year’s ceremony was held on Wednesday, June 28 at Oaklands College Smallford Campus.
Nina Morgan, editor of the Herts Advertiser, said: “A good education is so important to our young people and the wider community - after all, they are our future.
“There are so many examples of fantastic work in our schools, whether it be inspiring students or teachers who leave a lasting impression. We hope these awards shine a light on the dedicated and exceptional work they do.”