I’ve rarely felt more safe and secure than I did on the floor of Dorothy Cryder’s kindergarten classroom. It was nap time, and we were all lying on plastic mats. Their cool firmness against my cheek was soothing, and Miss Cryder’s kind and comforting presence permeated the room. I was 5, and I was happy.
This was at the old Ottawa Hills Elementary School, when it was one K-12 building on Iroquois Drive SE, where Grand Rapids Christian Elementary is now. It’s a long time ago for a guy my age (I’ll keep you guessing). But I remember clearly enough the plastic mats, the milk and graham crackers at snack time, the goldfish pond right in the room, and the sense that I was in good, caring hands with Miss Cryder.
So did Pat (Remington) Monahan, an Ottawa Class of 1944 graduate. In a 2009 alumni retrospective in MLive, shortly before the beautiful old building was torn down, Ms. Monahan recalled:
“Our beloved kindergarten teacher Miss Dorothy Crider (sic) presented me with the book ‘A Child’s Garden of Verse’ for having perfect attendance in 1931. I can’t imagine any classmate would have willingly missed a day of kindergarten because, at Ottawa, it was a complete joy. No child misbehaved because you had to be good to feed the goldfish. …”
Ms. Monahan was still feeling the warm glow of her kindergarten teacher 78 years after her perfect-attendance year, which was many years before I had Miss Cryder in the 1950s. She showed love and caring to both of us, and that stayed with us throughout our lives.
Now, with school abruptly ended for kindergartners and seniors alike, we’ve seen how deeply teachers care about their students — even across the chasm of social distancing – and how much their students miss them.
That says a lot about the importance of teachers in children’s lives, and the importance of schools in our communities.
Reaching Out However They Can
Since schools closed in mid-March, teachers, principals and other school staff have reached out to their students in myriad ways – from high-tech to old-school – to let them know they are thought of and loved. Many also started supplying students with on-the-fly learning activities, well before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered distance learning plans to begin by April 28.
From the day classrooms closed, educators started opening their hearts.
One of them is Brittney DesLauries, a second-year kindergarten teacher at East Leonard Elementary School. “There’s not a day that goes by without me worrying about them,” she said after the shutdown.
She sent videos and photos on a classroom app called SeeSaw to her kiddos with internet access. A few have replied.
“It is so nice to hear from them!” DesLauries texted me. “They have varied from them just saying hi, to them showing me what they are reading, to crafts they have made for me.”
But she didn’t forget about her students without internet. For those she took to the U.S. Postal Service, sending them letters on good old pen and paper. I suspect Miss Cryder would have done the same.
But for many a prime social medium of choice has been Facebook, that bottomless pit of digital distraction. Who knew that such a notorious time-waster could be a source of such intimate connection across the closure-induced separation? As reported here shortly after the shutdown, teachers and principals promptly started reading stories, leading virtual exercises and posting suggested learning activities on Facebook.
Look up any school or district Facebook page in Kent County and you’ll likely find heart-tugging messages of encouragement and clever photos posted by teachers. The Grand Rapids Public Schools page is filled with cheerful posts from schools, such as this message from Aberdeen School Principal Jamie Masco: “Make sure that you’re washing your hands and you’re staying safe. Know that you are loved from me and all of your teachers.”
Love Sent and Reciprocated
Wyoming High School staff sent their students a video to tell them how much they’re missed, opening with a poignant tour through empty hallways by Principal Joshua Baumbach. “We miss you, a lot,” he says. “We miss the laughter, we miss the conversations, we miss the energy you bring to Wyoming High School, and we miss the way you enrich our lives.”
Well what do you know, the students miss them too, and told them so in a response video. It started with senior McKenzie Ruppert and a few classmates deciding they should give love and thanks back.
“The staff at Wyoming has always gone above and beyond, to make all of us students feel welcome, and loved in so many ways, and for them to put together such a touching video for us was so unbelievably emotional, so it was pretty much a no-brainer to do something in return for them,” McKenzie emailed me.
She sent an email to fellow high schoolers and got an “overwhelming” response, as students fashioned photos, classroom antics and clever TikTok-style videos of themselves. She stitched them together with music over a few hours on Sunday night.
“As my classmates started sending me their videos, I was taken over with emotion,” McKenzie recalled. “I laughed, and cried, as I have not personally seen any of my classmates since school was closed back in March.”
In a particularly poignant moment in the video, a student expresses her appreciation with hand motions and subtitles: “Hey staff, we miss you guys too! Thank you for your hard work. … We love you guys!”
Well put. The best teachers do work hard, very hard. They do love their students and are loved in return. That emotional bond can serve a student well beyond his or her graduation date.
So who is your Miss Cryder? I hope you’ll email me your story and perhaps we can publish them.
And I hope our communities will remember those lifelong bonds as distance learning begins and when schools reopen, and show their teachers more love – and more support – in better days ahead.