Carly Schaff: Education in her DNA

 It was in the first grade when Carly Schaff of Lavina, Montana, knew she wanted to be a teacher.

“Our first-grade teacher, who was also my mom, had us write a letter to our older selves, which she would return to us upon graduating high school,” Carly said. “When I got mine back, I had written that I wanted to be a teacher – reading that letter definitely made me emotional.”

Teaching runs in the blood

Carly’s love of teaching is in her DNA. Her mother, Eva, and grandmother, Phyllis Brosz, are both alumnae of the teaching program at Montana State University Billings. However, when they earned their degrees, the university was known as Eastern Montana College. 

“We had a long talk about what teaching would mean for her future, and I am proud that after many thoughtful discussions, she chose this path,” Eva said. “I try not to tear-up thinking about it.”

Additionally, Carly’s aunt, uncle and mom make up more than 15 percent of the teachers at Broadview Public Schools.

A senior at MSU Billings, Carly has almost realized her childhood dream of becoming a teacher. Carly enjoys student teaching at Laurel West Elementary. She said she loves being in the classroom, but her real passion is reading.

“I have always loved to read and want kids to know that reading can be fun,” she said. “Scholastic has a great program where teachers can buy books for a dollar. I want to take advantage of that program and give the gift of books to my students.”

Carly said she will likely have to dip into her own pocket to provide each of her students a book when she has a classroom of her own. Nevertheless, she said she believes reading is essential, and she’s unfazed about paying for the books herself. 

Goals, hard work and achievement

Carly’s hard work and dedication are evident in what she has accomplished. Born deaf in her left ear, she has been overcoming obstacles since infancy.

“Sometimes it has given me challenges,” Carly said. “But, because I was born deaf, I don’t know any other way.”

Carly says she has always worked hard and taken school seriously. In addition to maintaining a lifetime 4.0 GPA, she succeeded in becoming a barrel racing champion. She won the 2013 Cody Nite Rodeo mounted on her horse, Turbie, whom she trained for five years to compete at such a high level. 

“It was pretty cool to see her win, and it still brings tears to my eyes,” Eva said. “It required a lot of hard work, which is something Carly is not afraid of.”

Carly used part of her winnings to cover the costs of traveling and competing in rodeos. Still, she managed to scrimp and save the rest of her earnings so she could purchase her first car with cash – forgoing that debt.

That hard work, coupled with attention to monetary freedom, has helped Carly set and subsequently reach a goal: graduate college without debt.  

With the help of her scholarship package, including the MSU Billings alumni scholarship, Carly will graduate in the spring of 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a reading minor. This achievement allows Carly to pursue her passion and provide more reading access to her students. 

What the future holds

Carly guides her behavior with the characteristics of being kind and giving back. 

“Carly has a heart of gold,” Eva said. “She won’t succeed at the expense of someone else failing.”

These traits led Carly to become part of a committee to select next year’s alumni scholarship recipients.

“The opportunity the scholarship has given me has been awesome, and I felt like it would be wonderful to be able to give that to someone else,” Carly said.

The MSU Billings Alumni Association established the scholarship in 1983, bestowing a $1,000 annual award to its recipients. 

After graduation, Carly will work as a substitute teacher at her childhood school alongside her uncle, aunt, and mom. Eva is looking forward to the future and watching Carly grow in her profession.

“I’ve watched her grow up, and I know she’s going to be a great teacher – she’s the complete package,” Eva said. “Carly doesn’t just teach by the teacher’s manual. She is disciplined and knowledgeable and has a demeanor that gets kids to think about how they are behaving.”

Carly envisions working in a rural community like that of her upbringing. Still, she has not decided where she will settle down and teach permanently. However, without the burden of student debt, Carly will decide where to teach based on where her heart tugs, instead of letting her pocketbook make the choice. 

This is one story in a three-part alumni scholarship series by Laie Black, public relations assistant for the MSU Billings Alumni Association.