Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dear Hailey...

Dear Hailey,
It's been 10 years since I've seen your sweet face, but it is one that I will never forget.  We met under tragic circumstances.  Hurricane Katrina had wreaked havoc in New Orleans and Baton Rouge was in chaos.  I was a 3rd grade teacher who would be forever changed by my interaction with you.

About 2 weeks after Katrina left her mark, my principal opened the door and introduced me to you.  You were a precious little 3rd grader with fear in her eyes.  I didn't know the circumstances around your move into the area, other than you had been uprooted because of the storm.  I knelt down to look you in the eye and took your hand to welcome you into my classroom.  A classroom that didn't have a desk, books, or supplies for you.  But it was a classroom that had a room full of kids who had opened their door to family members and friends who had also been uprooted.  Zachary had 10 extra people living in his house, so we didn't question whether you would stay or find another room with more space.

You were quiet.  I don't think you said very much in the short time that you were with us.  That first day was a blur.  I don't remember much other than your arrival.  After school, I was told your story.  You lived in Slidell and your home had been destroyed, as well as your school.  You were living in a shelter in the area and your mom wanted you to start school to keep some sort of normalcy in your life.  You had lost it all and were trying to make sense of the world again.  You were wearing clothes that were donated to you at the shelter, eating meals with people you didn't know, clinging to your momma at night because you were terrified.

The next day, as school began, I was called to the office.  You didn't want to come inside for the day.  You were clinging to your momma.  You were both crying and I started shortly after.  With help from the secretary, we peeled you off of your momma, assured her I would take extra good care of you, and brought you inside with you clinging to my side.

That day, I had a substitute teacher in the room so I could do reading assessments down the hall in the empty classroom.  I had everything set up for the class and let the sub know that I was just a short distance away in case she needed me.  It didn't take long for an SOS to come with the next student I needed to read to me.  I walked down the hallway and heard you sobbing.  As soon as I entered the room, you left your seat and attached yourself to me.  You spent the rest of the day with me reading quietly.

The rest of your time with me was similar.  You began to quietly talk to some of the other girls, but you didn't say much.  At recess, you played within my sight.  Each morning, I met you on the sidewalk and we did the same peel and hug maneuver.

After a week, you came in late one morning with flowers and a gift for me.  It was your last day.  Inside the wrapped present was a beautiful silver heart and a handwritten note thanking me for taking care of you.  The thoughtful words brought me to tears.  You gave me one of the fiercest hugs I've ever received.  It still sticks with me.  And with that, you walked out of my classroom 10 years ago.

I don't know where you are or what path your life has taken, but here I am 10 years later still thinking about you and the impact you made on me.  In a world that had been turned upside down, you taught me an important lesson that I still haven't forgotten.  That lesson was simple, students need to feel loved and cared for first.

There was no way that I could have taught you anything other than feeling safe that week.  You weren't ready and that was okay.

Thank you for trusting me while you were a guest.  I hope that you have found your place and you are changing your world.

Mrs. Looper

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