When Stacey Daniel graduated from Georgia State University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, she looked at her mother and asked what she should do next. Still searching for her passion in life, Daniel decided to go back to school for a master’s degree, then to get certified to teach.
“It was the best thing she could have done,” said her mother, Shirley Eberhart, of Fairburn. “She was a natural. It’s what she was born to do.”
Her first teaching job was at Renfroe Middle School in Decatur, where she did her student teaching, and she loved it, her mother said. After a few years in the classroom, she enrolled at the University of West Georgia to get her specialist certification in 2006.
Daniel, a Fairburn native and a 1996 graduate of Creekside High School, taught at Renfroe for 10 years. Faculty, staff, parents and children all fell in love with the bubbly teacher, who never ran out of hugs and kisses. That is why Monday was so hard for the Renfroe school family.
Stacey Nicole Daniel died Monday at Southern Regional Medical Center. She was 34. A funeral is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Mark United Methodist Church, Fairburn. Gus Thornhill’s Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
The announcement of her death almost brought Renfroe Middle, where she was still a teacher, to a stand-still, said friend and former Renfroe teacher Mary Elizabeth Kelly.
“You just have to understand who Stacey was to the school, to the kids, to us,” said Kelly, who now teaches at Georgia Gwinnett College. “I’ve taught with some wonderful teachers, but there was just something different about Stacey.”
Parents felt the same way, said Nia Schooler, who had a seventh grader in Daniel’s language arts class last year.
“She was able to connect with the kids in a way that was special to them,” said Schooler, who also works with the Decatur Education Foundation. “Last year, my son said to me, ‘Mom, Ms. Daniel is the only teacher who gets me,’ and a number of kids felt that way, I think.”
Last school year, Daniel was a recipient of the Foundation’s “Extra Mile Award,” which celebrates teachers who go above and beyond, Schooler said.
“She was nominated by three different students,” she said. “And these kids were talking about some major, life-changing events that Ms. Daniel had helped them through.”
Truth be told, Daniel likely didn’t see what she did with those students as anything more than her job as a teacher, Kelly said.
“Stacey understood what being a teacher was all about,” she said. “There is no telling how much of her paycheck she spent feeding and clothing her kids.”
Daniel, who taught seventh grade language arts for a number of years, established an annual poetry slam at Renfroe that is legendary among current and former students, Kelly and Schooler said.
“You’d just have to see the kids, excited about working on their poems for this thing,” Kelly said. “I mean, she had kids wanting to learn more. She was just a phenomenal teacher.”
In addition to her mother, Daniel is survived by her father, Tommy Daniel of Atlanta.