Valley High grad follows mother’s footsteps to teaching career, and her classroom

Three students had three words to describe Valley High School English teacher Rachael Link.

“Energetic” was the word senior Rachel Schrock used.

“You can hear her down the hallway teaching her class,” said Schrock, 18.

The word that came to 16-year-old Elisabeth Ervin’s mind was “inspiring.”

“She gets kids to want change and to see change,” said Ervin, a junior. “She gets kids involved, and it’s a great thing to see.”

Senior Ben Aftanas qualified his word, “involved,” with “very.” Apparently, Link has been seen standing on a desk.

“You never get bored in her class,” said Aftanas, 18.

A 1996 Valley graduate, Link is teaching juniors in the same classroom where her mother, Beth Link, taught English to ninth graders — including Rachael — before retiring.

“She was tough on me, a true grammarian,” said Link, 43, who now lives in Aspinwall with her spouse and two sons. “I model my style of teaching after my mother.”

Rachael’s father, Frank Link, had been a police officer, police chief and mayor of New Kensington.

“While I was growing up I was either going to be a police officer like my father or an English teacher like my mother,” Link said.

After graduating from high school, Link went to Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated in 2000 with a degree in English education.

“When I graduated, there was no question where I was going to teach — I was returning to my roots and giving back to the community that raised me,” she said.

Link was a substitute teacher at New Kensington-Arnold until she was hired 17 years ago. She’s taught every grade level at the high school.

“I’ve had other job opportunities,” she said. “It’s never been an option to teach somewhere else. My heart is in that district.”

Link starts every school year having her students write “identity poems” about themselves on poster boards that are displayed in a hallway outside her room. It’s how she gets to know her students. Other students pass every day, read and take in the messages.

“I love the diversity of it,” she said. “It becomes a mosaic on the wall.”

Link teaches American literature including works such as “The Great Gatsby,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Crucible,” and “The Scarlet Letter.”

“They embrace the timelessness of these classics,” she said. “It’s magical to witness in their eyes. And that’s why I’m a teacher, to see that look in their eyes.”

In addition to teaching, Link is a varsity tennis coach to boys and girls and advisor to the student council.

Schrock and Aftanas, senior class president and treasurer, respectively, and Ervin, junior class president, recently gave a presentation to the New Kensington-Arnold School Board on what they’ve been doing in consultation with Superintendent Chris Sefcheck to enhance the culture of their school. That included the students hosting and organizing a powder puff football game.

Coming off the covid pandemic year, “It was nice to have the whole student body back together again,” Link said.

Sefcheck said Link is fully focused on students “in a creative, energetic and passionate way.”

“She has an uncanny ability to motivate students and athletes to reach beyond their potential,” he said. “She epitomizes the spirit of our student body.”

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