At the end of the school year I usually hug my students good bye knowing I will not see them again until the start of the next school year. But this ending was different. As I hugged my students and parents good bye I was able to say, “We can’t wait to see you in July for Pizza in the Park.”
My husband Mike and I decided that we wanted a chance to celebrate our student’s accomplishments over the school year. We also wanted the chance to enjoy our students and their families, so we both invited our kindergarten and fourth grade classes to Little Mulberry Park to have a celebration as a class family one last time.
I planned the event, so my friend Teresa Gross our class Twitter buddy could attend. My students were so excited to get a chance to meet the person who had spent so much time reaching out to our class by reading to us, answering questions about New York, and sending pictures of a snowy winter.
Throughout the summer I would see our students, talk with them, and each time I walked away I would say, “See you in July.” It felt wonderful knowing we would get to spend quality time together before rushing into a new school year. We knew not everyone would get the chance to attend, but we were hoping a third of our students came out . When we sent out the Evite, we were thrilled to see more than half from each class would be attending.
At Pizza in the Park Mike and I got there a little early to set up thinking the kids would arrive soon, but we were surprised to already have a fourth grade student, Aidan waiting for us. We found out that this was a very special day for him because he was moving in a week. The family did not know they were making these changes at the end of the school year. His mom told us that he couldn’t wait for Pizza in the Park to get a chance to say goodbye to his classmates.
Many fourth grade students arrived at Pizza in the Park, we came out to greet them all, but of course I caught myself many times looking for my own students. The first student I saw running down the track, was Shari. She was as fast as ever. I ran down to meet her, “Shari I knew you would be the first one!” She didn’t know it, but little tears were in my eyes. Hugging her made me realize how much I missed my students and how special this event was going to be for all of us. Shari and I gave each other a big hug and talked about her summer. She had so much to tell me. The beautiful thing was I could really take it all in and listen intently because there was no lesson coming up, just time to spend with my students. I then introduced Shari to Teresa. Shari had a huge smile on her face since she had usually been the student taking class pictures to send to Ms. Gross. Her family and Teresa were able to connect by talking about New York and their visit to Paris, France.
As each child from my class showed up I felt blessed to know each child and their family. We told families we had dinner covered and not to worry about food for others, but almost every parent brought something to share with the classes whether it was slices of watermelon, bags of chips, juice boxes, or cookies. We even got to celebrate Michelle’s 6th birthday with both classes. Singing happy birthday to this sweet, strong, and humble child (no longer afraid of bees) was a highlight. Her brother who I taught years ago was standing beside, proud to be there by her side. Seeing those two pass out cupcakes to all the students there including their siblings amazed me.
One of my students, Jackson let me know that his family was in Canada. His dad had stayed with him, so that he could attend Pizza in the Park. This touched my heart to think mom, sister, and brother had gone to visit family, but Jackson wanted to stay to spend time with our class one last time. It let me reflect on the importance of the relationships we build with our students and the relationships they build with each other,
It was truly magical for Mike and I as we looked around seeing parents talking to each other sitting on camp chairs, fourth graders playing football, kindergartners swinging together, and even my own children keeping up with the big kids. Our girls looked independent and happy to hang out with their soon to be Mulberry family.
Mike and I at one time thought maybe we should let the event go. Thinking would many of our students be able to come out, would we be able to pull it off, and wondering if the park would even work as a location. I am so thankful Mike and I pushed through with this event! It was amazing to talk to the families not about academics or the school year, but just to hear about their lives as a family. Hearing amazing stories of students who visited Norway, Paris, Virginia Beach, New York, New Jersey, The Smokey Mountains, and Atlanta were priceless.
Mike and I will keep this day in our hearts for years to come, remembering each year it’s a gift we can give to our students, but also a gift we receive right back by seeing all our students celebrate their year as a class family. We are so grateful to be in this wonderful community serving so many families.
Mike and I are thankful each year we get to be called educators. I am personally thankful I get to share this career with my best friend and husband, Mike Stanton who reminds me daily of the impact great educators have on their communities. May we always remember the impact of Pizza in the Park and may it remind us that hard work needs celebrated and love is always received.