This year we did a special project with our senior class at Conway High School. We asked them to write letters of “GRADitude” to teachers and staff members who have made an impact on them during their years in Conway Public Schools. The project was completely optional. Students were simply given the opportunity to write a letter to someone in our district, telling them specifically what they did, how they changed their lives, or why they made them who they are today. We gave them the idea, an envelope, and a deadline. The students did the rest.
We were overwhelmed with the response, receiving almost 300 letters! They were hand-written, full of memories and kind words to our folks who spend their days loving and teaching our students. Most of them were written to current Conway Public Schools teachers and staff, although we had some written to retired staff and those in other districts. (We tried our best to track them down and mail these to them!) Kindergarten and first grade teachers heard from students they hadn’t seen in more than ten years! “Thank you for being one of the best teachers I have ever had,” wrote one student, “I may not remember many specific things you taught me, but I do remember the life skills I learned. It blows my mind that I am a senior and about to graduate, but I couldn’t have made it without you. You will forever be my favorite teacher.”
This was written to one of our elementary custodians. ”I was in elementary school about 8 years ago and you were the heart of the school. It ran on your positive spirit. I looked forward to talking to you about sports in the morning- it was a great start to my day. I remember when you came to my 4th grade basketball game to cheer us on…we won the championship that year! I will be going on to play athletics in college, and it’s role models and people of character like you who led me to have this opportunity.”
The letters were written to teachers in all grades, at all our schools.
“I remember when I first moved to Conway, you greeted me with open arms and a huge smile. Thank you for always having confidence in me and encouraging me to never stop trying. Thank you for being a teacher. Thank you for being an encourager. Thank you for being a coach.”
“I wanted to thank you for having a positive impact on my life. English is my least favorite class but you made it fun. I appreciate you for encouraging me and bringing me up when I had a bad day. Even if you weren’t interested, you always seemed interested in what I had to say. Thank you for caring about me.”
“I wanted to thank you for the tremendous impact you’ve had on my senior year. Between being a great teacher and a great person, you’ve inspired me to love, forgive, and follow my dreams. Without even knowing it, you’ve impacted me and my life more than I think you could ever know and for that I am eternally grateful.”
“Because of you, I have become a better student. Your constant encouragement and willingness to help students is so appreciated. I am deeply grateful that I have you as a teacher, simply because you are great at what you do. As I graduate and attend college, I will remember your wisdom and cherish the time I’ve had you as a teacher.”
These letters were hand delivered, along with a special certificate of “GRADitude” to their recipients this last week at our Senior Walk. This was our second year to do the Senior Walk, where the seniors spend their last day of school having a special breakfast and talk with Principal Jason Lawrence, then put on their caps and gowns and travel on school buses to their elementary and middle schools to visit their teachers and the current students there.
The Senior Walk is magical. The elementary students are absolutely star struck by the seniors. They give them high-fives and hugs as they walk through the hallways and cafeterias in their graduation gear. The seniors are so proud. Every single one of them is smiling from ear to ear. It’s fun to watch them reminisce with one another as they come back to elementary school. Things seem smaller, and life gets put into perspective. Memories come back to life, as they become kids again and swing on the playground, read library books, and want special stickers, just like they did when they were younger!
Teachers cried as they received their GRADitude letters and certificates. They loved seeing their former students all grown up. They announced to their current students “This is one of my babies!” “This will be YOU someday!” Although not in any teacher’s lesson plans, I am confident this is a lesson they won’t soon forget. The seniors give the current elementary students something to strive for- an actual picture of where they can be someday, walking down these same halls in a bright blue cap and gown, because those seniors were once right where they are now. They are someone just like them. Likewise, it reminds our teachers of the importance of their work. Every single day. All their efforts add up to the graduates standing in front of them. Expressions of “GRADitude”, no matter how you spell it, always compel us to push harder, do more, and never give up. Thank you, Class of 2018, for this reminder.