When Substitute Teacher Hall of Fame inductee Ralph Starace suffered a heart attack in 2014, the Sussex County Technical School community sprung into action.
The student body mobilized, sending Ralph more than 700 get-well cards. Fellow teachers shared unused sick days. And countless individuals passed along words of encouragement.
“That made my rehab a lot easier, having that many people that really care,” Ralph recalls.
It was Sussex Tech’s way of giving back to an educator, coach, and mentor who has made a difference in countless lives during his two-plus decades at the school. And it’s Exhibit A of why Ralph was one of three inductees into the inaugural class of the Substitute Teacher Hall of Fame.
“During his time as a substitute, he has become part of the fabric of the school, and has positively impacted the lives of thousands of students,” says Rich Rennie from the Sussex County Board Office.
“He is a great example of how being a substitute teacher can be vitally important to both the substitute and the school community.”
Journey to the Hall of Fame
Ralph has left his mark both in and out of the classroom during his 23 years as a substitute teacher at Sussex Tech. He’s taught a wide variety of subjects and grade levels, doing his best to make an impact for as many students as possible along the way.
“My job as a sub is to keep everything in order and to make sure the kids are walking away with something,” Ralph says. “I try to make the kids self-sufficient for when they get out of school. I try to help them develop self-worth and self-esteem.”
“It’s all about the kids. That’s the main thing, that’s the main objective. If you can make them a little better than they are, then you’ve accomplished something. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Ralph’s crowning accomplishment at Sussex Tech has been his transformative leadership of the school’s SkillsUSA chapter. (SkillsUSA is a nationwide career and technical skills organization that hosts competitions for middle school, high school, and college students. It currently has nearly 400,000 members.)
When Ralph joined the chapter’s staff, only 10 Sussex students were members. Over time, however, Ralph and his colleagues grew the club to 50, then 100, then 200, including a number of award-winners along the way.
“We try to make the kids feel involved — make them feel like they can compete,” Ralph says. “For me, I don’t really care about winning and losing. My attitude is you go in there and you try your best, that’s a win for me. If you feel good about yourself and you come out of the competition, whether you win or lose, that’s great.”
That’s what’s happened for dozens of Sussex Tech SkillsUSA participants and alums. Ralph’s impact on club members is evident in the number of program alums who return to campus to support current participants, as well as the multiple wedding invitations Ralph has received.
One Sussex Tech SkillsUSA alum even named several pets after Ralph.
“Like I keep going back to, the biggest thing is the kids,” Ralph says. “You see them succeed — how many kids have their own businesses, how many kids go on to great colleges, how many kids come back and say, ‘Thanks, you made a big impact on my life.’ Stuff like that — that’s all the rewarding stuff to me.”
About Swing Education
Founded in 2015, Swing Education addresses the nationwide substitute teacher shortage by helping schools connect with qualified educators via an easy-to-use, web-based marketplace. The company’s diverse pool of substitute teachers consists of both veteran educators and those who are entering into the education community through Swing Education. To date, the company has helped more than 1,500 school partners fill 150,000-plus teacher absences. To learn more about Swing Education, visit our website.