Scholarship sisters-in-law retiring
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Sister-in-laws Deirdre Bishel, left, and Joyce Tucker have been helping seniors earn scholarships for the past 14 years. However, both are retiring after many years within the district.
Each year, Deirdre Collodi-Bishel and Joyce Tucker, who are sisters-in-law, do what they can to get as much scholarship money as possible to graduating seniors.
This year, the duo helped students collect about $800,000 in scholarship money.
However, the dynamic duo had their final graduating class this year because they are retiring after working for the past 13 years.
Bishell has been working with seniors and scholarships since moving to the Madera South Career Center in 2007. Meanwhile, Tucker has also been helping Madera High School seniors since 2007.
“It’s been a rewarding experience,” Bishel said.
This year, Tucker collected almost $700,000 in scholarship money while Bishel’s number was almost $200,000. However, in most years, the duo raises more than $1 million for the seniors.
“I feel bad we couldn’t get out more,” Bishel said. “We were so busy testing and dealing with reps so much, we couldn’t put more time into the scholarship.”
“I’m so super proud of our community that does the hard work for the scholarships,” Tucker said. “When the kids come in with their scholarship information, they seem so weighted down. You know they stayed up all night putting it together.”
Bishel started off in special education in 1985. She also helped build Martin Luther King Middle School and then took over the Coyote Copy Center for a few years. She moved to the WorkAbility program getting special needs students meaningful jobs. Then, Bishel moved to the MSHS career center and learned the scholarship ropes from Tucker.
“We have shared many trips delivering the applications to our wonderful donors,” Bishel said. “We have expanded the program with much nurturing. Joyce and I share most scholarship work, taking turns every other year with some of the mailings.”
Tucker also began in 2007 at the Madera High School career center after spending the previous two years as the school’s parent liaison.
“Before that, I worked part-time at Berenda Elementary School,” Tucker said. “Previously, I volunteered at three elementary schools, two junior high schools and both high schools. I was volunteering at MLK and they thought I worked there because that’s how much I worked there. I also coached at the elementary level, junior high level and high school. I was the head coach of cross country at Madera.”
Although a decision to step down after so many years can be hard, the duo said that because of COVID and working over Zoom, it made it a little easier to step down.
“It is because of the offer,” Tucker said. “The incentive and the circumstances made it like that. The district doesn’t offer that to classified employees. It is hard to walk away. When you have the passion for it, you want to keep it going. You want it to be there for the kids. The kids benefit from it.”
“They gave us like a Golden Handshake,” Bishel said. “I’m old enough to retire. It was hard when we found out we were both doing it. The hardest thing was not knowing the kids. It also made it easier to retire.”
For Tucker, graduation is one of the hardest and emotional days of the year. However, this year was quite different.
“Usually graduation is bittersweet,” she said. “You get to know the seniors really well with scholarships, financial aid, college applications. You get to really know them about their life and dreams. With COVID, we didn’t really know the kids. We didn’t have that interaction.”
“That’s why it made it easier this year,” Bishel said.
However, since working in each high school’s career center and having first-hand knowledge of the other, the pair said they enjoyed what they were able to do for seniors.
“Both being from Madera and sister-in-laws help a lot,” Bishel said.
“Being from Madera is a help,” Tucker said. “You know who the people are, you know who the clubs are and the history of the club.”
The pair has also seen the way scholarships are handled evolve from not having a scholarship program to having counselors choose the recipients to how they do it now where the career center is the main hub for the scholarship donors and applicants.
“When this first started, the kids really didn’t apply,” Bishel said. “The counselors just chose the winners. Now, there’s no favoritism.”
“I’ve been on committees where they put tape over the name of the applicant,” Tucker said. “They are going by what is written.”
From the scholarships, the pair have worked to put on an extravagant scholarship night to not only honor the recipients, but to also honor those who donated the scholarships.
“We’ve had the Coyote Café do the hor d’oeuvres and the kids involved in the cooking,” Tucker said. “Before FFA went to Madera South, they would be a part of the scholarship night. They would wear their blue jackets and walk the donors up.”
“When I took over, at Madera South, I wanted to have student art,” Bishel said. “I wanted students to be the ushers. We had the ASB president be a speaker. The meal was provided by the kids on campus. I wanted it all to be student-run. That was my biggest claim.”
There are times where the pair find scholarships tailor-made for a specific students or maybe find that diamond in the rough scholarship that hasn’t been applied for, yet.
“There was a girl that I talked into going to Grand Canyon University — Emily Garcia,” Bishel said. “I told here she was perfect for it. She was able to apply a second time and she’s doing great. Those stories are great and amazing.”
“After they apply to the scholarship, I tell them to keep a master copy,” Tucker said. “One day a kid came in and asked some questions. I asked if he still had his master because no one applied for this one scholarship. I gave him the information and he came back a month later and received a $1,000 scholarship.”
Not only do the scholarships help the graduate monetarily, but it also gives them confidence that someone believes in them. Also, by receiving a local scholarship, it might also persuade the recipient to give back, if they are able to, in the future.
“It’s good the kids learn to give back,” Tucker said. “They learn that someone made a sacrifice for them to earn this money to help them. They believe in them.”
Now, Tucker and Bishel hopes that the person that follows in their footsteps will be equally passionate about getting seniors scholarship money.
“If you enjoy working with youths and seniors and want to give them all the options, this is a great job,” Tucker said. “I hope someone with that kind of passion comes in. It’s them doing the hard work. We’re just giving them the tools. Now, we pass the torch. Someone will find the passion to carry on the tradition.”