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Reid Elementary School staff and students mourn loss of teacher to cancer; Cibort was 'larger than life'

Posted 11/21/18

Mande Jensen thought Elf on the Shelf would be a cool idea for her second-grade students at Reid Elementary School.

But Natalie Cibort, one of Jensen’s fellow second-grade teachers at Reid, …

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Reid Elementary School staff and students mourn loss of teacher to cancer; Cibort was 'larger than life'

Posted

Mande Jensen thought Elf on the Shelf would be a cool idea for her second-grade students at Reid Elementary School.

But Natalie Cibort, one of Jensen’s fellow second-grade teachers at Reid, didn’t.

Cibort thought it “creepy,” Jensen said. But when Jensen and another Reid teacher started doing Elf on the Shelf in their classrooms, Cibort wasn’t to be upstaged.

For her students, Cibort brought in a man dressed as a real-live elf. He sat on the shelf in her classroom, playfully swinging his legs so the students would know he was for real.

“Meanwhile, their Elf on the Shelf is just a plastic doll,” said Reid second-grade teacher Linda Eppley.

All the second-grade teachers at Reid let their students wear pajamas as a reward every once in a while. But only in Cibort’s class did they get pancakes too.

Whatever Natalie Cibort did, she was passionate about it. She was “larger than life,” Eppley said.

Cibort, who taught young children in Middletown Area School District for 21 years, died Monday, Nov. 12, after a long battle with cancer at her aunt’s home in Bressler, at age 45.

This past week, teachers and staff members who had worked with Cibort at Reid for many years wore fuchsia hot-pink colored T-shirts in her honor. Cibort always wore pink lipstick.

On the front the shirts said “She leaves a little Sparkle wherever she goes,” and on the back was written #teamnatalie.

Reid and the rest of the school district community learned of Cibort’s passing late Monday night.

“They all reported in for work” the next day, Superintendent Lori Suski said of the teachers and staff at Reid. “Which I thought just showed a sign of the unity and strength of that building, because these teachers were just distraught over losing their colleague.”

The young students at Reid saw their teachers cry. Extra guidance counselors, psychologists and social workers were brought into the building, to lift some of the burden off the shoulders of the teachers, and to be there for the students.

“There’s a huge void here,” Eppley said on Friday afternoon as she and many others were getting ready to go to Cibort’s viewing in Steelton. Her funeral Mass was the next morning.

“We plowed through and got through a really difficult week, one of the most difficult weeks we’ve ever taught through. But you have to be strong for 7-year-olds,” Eppley said.

Cibort started with Middletown district in 1997-98 as a part-time kindergarten-through-fourth grade teacher at Kunkel Elementary School.

Cibort had majored in early childhood education so teaching little kids “was her wheelhouse. This was what she wanted to do,” Suski said.

Or as Sue Bracht, another of Cibort’s colleagues at Reid, put it, “You could take her out of kindergarten, but you couldn’t take the kindergarten out of her.”

From 1998 to 2000, Cibort taught K-5 at the former Demey Elementary School, and in 2000 to 2002 also taught transitional first grade at Demey and Kunkel.

Cibort came to Reid in 2003-04 and taught kindergarten for three years, before moving to second grade in 2006-07 where she spent the rest of her career.

She had been on medical leave since the start of this school year, the district bringing in a long-term substitute to cover Cibort’s classroom in her absence.

Cibort had intended to return to the classroom. She meant to come back right after Thanksgiving, but the last time Suski saw her in October, Cibort said it might have to wait until after Christmas.

“I said, ‘That’s OK,’” Suski said. “She was very much trying to be positive about her situation. We just held her hands in the hospital and told her when she comes back we are going to have a big celebration because the kids and the staff will be so happy to have her back.”

Suski in a letter posted on the school district website after Cibort’s passing called her “a fabulous and energetic teacher.”

Cibort served on a number of school district committees during her tenure.

She was “instrumental” in helping bring about the school district’s full-day kindergarten program, Suski said.

“She was a very talented individual, not only from a professional standpoint but just a joy to be around on a personal level too.”

According to her online obituary via Wiederman Funeral Home, Cibort was a graduate of Bishop McDevitt High School Class of 1991 and Bloomsburg University Class of 1995.

She was a member of Prince of Peace Roman Catholic Parish, Steelton, St. Lawrence Lodge No. 13, Croatian Fraternal Union, St. Aloysius Lodge No. 42, KSKJ, St. Mary's Catholic Club, and former treasurer and member of the Ladies Auxiliary of Friendship Fire Company, Bressler.

She was the daughter of Joseph M. Cibort and the late Frances Bosnjak Cibort. Burial was in Churchville Cemetery, Oberlin.

Memorial contributions may be made to Four Diamonds Fund of Hershey Medical Center, 1249 Cocoa Ave., Suite 115, Hershey, PA 17033; or Celtic Hospice, 150 Scharberry Lane, Mars, PA 16046.