By Jason Bagley
Victoria Soto’s enthusiasm for teaching was tremendous.
“Vicki’s passion was education,” her mother, Donna Soto, said in an email. “She knew from a very early age she would follow her aunt’s footsteps and become a teacher.”
Soto graduated from Stratford High School in 2003. She spent two years as an intern at Sandy Hook School in Newtown and in 2012 was entering her third year as a first-grade teacher.
“I absolutely love teaching first grade!” began her profile on the school’s website.
On Dec. 14, 2012, Soto was one of six educators killed in the massacre at the Newtown elementary school. She was 27.
The tragedy claimed the lives of 20 first-grade students.
In the raw days that followed, however, came a story of remarkable bravery. With the shock still tender, the story of how Soto shielded her students from gunfire, selflessly giving her life to save those of her adoring students, was news that circled the globe over.
“Her life was cut short doing what she loved,” her mother said. “She protected those children with her own life. Eleven are alive today directly from the actions she took faced with the unthinkable that horrific day.
“So many children have been positively affected by her zest for life and for molding the young minds she loved to teach. It breaks my heart that so many will miss out on the awesome teacher she was.”
As the Soto family grappled with their sudden, inexplicable loss, they discussed ways to memorialize “Vicki” while at the same time encouraging others to follow her path into a career in teaching.
“We talked about setting up a fund for scholarships to those going into the field of education,” Soto said. “We put a link in her obituary. We had an overwhelming response from the country at large to support this fund.”
The Vicki Soto Memorial Fund was established in January of 2013 and to date has raised more than $100,000, Soto said.
Though most of the donations come from benefactors around the country, local events, such as one at Stanziale’s Restaurant and another at 99 Restaurant, have also contributed to the fund.
Soto said proceeds from the fund will create scholarships at both Stratford and Bunnell high schools. She said two are planned to be awarded this school year for students looking to pursue a career in education.
Next up on the fundraising front is the first annual Vicki Soto 5K on Nov. 2. Participants can choose to run or walk the course, which is located in the Lordship section of Stratford.
Click here for more information on the race, or to make a donation to the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund.