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A special needs pioneer: Frisco ISD names school after former teacher
Joyce Comstock receives a hug from Comstock Elementary Principal Pam Orr at the dedication ceremony for the new elementary school named in her honor. Photo courtesy of Frisco ISD.
Joyce Kelley Comstock is a trail blazer.
When she first began teaching special education, few schools offered comprehensive programs for children with special needs. As recently as the 1970s, only a small percentage of special education students were taught in public schools. School districts were even allowed to refuse enrollment to children deemed "uneducable."
Comstock was the sole special education teacher at Frisco High School in the 1980s, and though it could be difficult at times, it was something she greatly enjoyed.
"It was a challenge to include everyone and meet their individual needs," Comstock said. "That was my goal -- to not treat them as a class of children but to treat each one as an individual and help them reach their potential."
Even before she started teaching at Frisco High School, special education was a topic of interest for Comstock. She first began teaching at an Indiana elementary school, and at that time she also worked with children with special needs at her local church.
On Sept. 16, Comstock was honored for her pioneering legacy at the dedication ceremony of Joyce Kelley Comstock Elementary School. For Comstock, the honor was completely unexpected.
"I'm still on cloud nine," she said. "I just still am amazed at the ceremony and how many people were there -- friends, former students and families. It was just a wonderful experience; I loved every minute of it."
Sue Stafford, a Frisco ISD teacher and friend of Comstock's, said Comstock is a woman whose passion for her students is unrivaled.
"She and her husband, Mitt, always did fun things with her kids," she said. "Each year they would take a group of her special education students to the prom, and she always had so much fun. She was an advocate for students with disabilities long before most people."
Both Comstock and Stafford routinely run into some of Comstock's former students around town. Just a week before the dedication of Comstock Elementary School, Stafford saw two of those former students.
"I asked both of [her former students] if they were going to her dedication, and each said they wouldn't miss it for the world," Stafford said. "She developed relationships with her students that last years beyond the time she spends in the classroom -- and that's what makes her a successful teacher."
When Stafford asked one of the students what word he'd use to describe Comstock, he gave a quick response: patient.
The answer wasn't surprising, Stafford said, as patient was the word she was thinking of as well.
"In all my years teaching, I've never seen a teacher who is as patient as Mrs. Comstock," she said. "It's one of her many strong suits."
For Comstock, seeing former students around Frisco is a rewarding experience. And, just as Stafford stated, she maintains contact with many of her students long after their student-teacher relationship has ended.
"I love hearing that they're doing well and they're happy and productive and feel good about where they are in life," Comstock said. "In fact, I had dinner with one of my former students and his wife last week. That brings a real sense of accomplishment and pride to me."
While she's technically retired, teaching isn't something that Comstock's left behind. She now teaches English as a Second Language night classes to adults two days a week at Frisco ISD.
Comstock has been teaching the classes for about nine years and enjoys the challenge of teaching a different set of students than she did when she was a secondary school teacher, she said.
"I did ESL teaching back when I lived in Indiana, and when I moved back to Frisco they needed another teacher and asked me if I wanted to do that, and I really enjoy it," Comstock said. "I've met some wonderful people and seen some real progress in English. Some of my students have gone on to become American citizens, and that's such an honor for me."
While it goes without saying, Comstock will say it anyway: teaching is a big part of who she is.
"It's been a very, very important part of my life," Comstock said of her profession. "I have a real passion for teaching and learning."