Second-Year Teacher Draws Strength from Inspiring Matriarchs


Shaunteca Simmons remembers that day in 2016 well. The pink walls, the overwhelming anxiety, the fear that her grandmother would suffer the same fate as her grandfather. Her grandmother, Reather Simmons, was speaking but the words were a blur to Shaunteca, whose heart was beating rapidly. Her hatred of hospitals was not helping her consternation, but she was telling herself to focus, not to dwell on the negatives.

As the slender, blonde doctor said the crushing words, Simmons looked at her grandmother, who had a glassy look on her face. Simmons’ heart sank and a feeling of emptiness took over her stomach. Cancer. The words pounded Simmons’ heart like torrential rain against a helpless window.

Reather had faced thyroid cancer from 2003 to 2005 and beaten it, but this time was different. The last time Reather faced cancer, Simmons was just a young girl living humbly in the small rural town of Williston, S.C., just outside of Aiken. Life was simpler, then, in the town with only two stop lights and no Walmart within 20 minutes.

But those days were gone. This time, Simmons was a young adult, more aware of Reather’s challenges and of the preciousness of life.

Plus, her grandfather was still alive before, but cancer claimed his life in 2011, causing stress for Simmons. Would her grandmother, who had experienced health challenges for years, beat cancer again?

Simmons shared a special relationship with her grandmother. Reather was her primary babysitter growing up. She was the one who hopped in that red four-door Ford Escort wagon to pick her up from school. The apprehension wore heavily on Simmons.

“I learned that I was a worrier,” Simmons said. “I remember crying to my mom and her saying ‘let go and let God.’”

Although letting go and letting God would be difficult, her faith has always been her lodestar. It’s a temperament Simmons saw in her mother, Angela, who has had more than her share of health obstacles.

Angela was diagnosed with Lupus at the age of 15. It was a devastating blow to her dreams of serving in the military. Simmons remembers her mother being unable to stand for long periods of time. Angela couldn’t do certain events with her daughter. Simmons also recalls having to give her mom extra time to get out of her red, four-door Ford Focus (Simmons’ uncle worked for Ford) after she parked the car.

The memories aren’t all painful, though. During happy times, Simmons and her mom would sing together (they still do) and watch musicals all day in their pajamas. Angela often attended her daughter’s dance events. Simmons took dance, including tap, jazz and ballroom, from the age of four until she was 18.

Angela walked with a silent faith, one from which her daughter drew strength.

“Seeing her struggle made me more motivated. I knew I represented her. My mother continued to work and do what she had to do,” Simmons said proudly in her high-pitched voice.

Determined to find a cure for Lupus, Simmons enrolled at Clemson University and earned her Bachelor’s in Biological Sciences.

In the spring of 2017, Simmons was pursuing her Masters’ Degree in Secondary Science Teaching at Clemson when she got a call from her mother. Simmons was sitting on her bed in her two-bedroom apartment, working on a unit plan when Angela told her that Reather’s cancer was in remission.

“I was ecstatic on the inside,” Simmons said.

Upon hearing the news, Simmons spent the rest of that night singing gospel songs.

Before her graduation, Simmons was considering a few different schools for teaching positions. At a job fair, she met Dr. Sylvia Berry of Rock Hill Schools, who encouraged her to apply for an opening in Rock Hill. Simmons, however, had some reservations about securing a position. One school in particular, South Pointe High School, caught her eye.

“The school reminded me of my high school,” she said.

South Pointe Assistant Principal Anthony Thomas emailed Simmons and set up an interview with her. Simmons had an interview at Riverside High School in Greenville, and then drove straight to South Pointe.

It was a hot and sunny early spring day, as Simmons drove her black 4-door Honda Civic on the way to South Pointe. Simmons was wearing a hot pink blouse with a black cardigan and multicolored striped shirt. She had her hair straightened for all of her interviews, because she didn’t know what sort of interview she was going into. She met Thomas, former South Pointe Principal Dr. Al Leonard, Science Department Chairperson Jocelyn Gordon, and former Assistant Principal Michael Belk in a conference room behind the main office.

“I had a talk with God and said I know where I want to be and if I get a position in the area, then I will go there,” Simmons said.

The interview lasted around 20 minutes and she briefly toured the school. She was encouraged when administration told her she wouldn’t need to write formal lesson plans.

On a windy Sunday evening in the springtime at Clemson, the sun was setting and Simmons was standing outside Cooper Bridge when she got the call from Leonard, offering her the job.

In her second year at South Pointe, Simmons has settled in at the school, making the most of her opportunity to “mold and sculpt and have an influence on young adults.”