by Ranee Stats - Secondary Language Arts Coordinator - Putnam City Public Schools
My freshmen were given a very unique opportunity to submit essays, poems, or stories for the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. My students were excited for the chance to actually have their words in at that time a well-known published series. I was happy for the seriousness and excitement to which students took to the task.
Since the students’ writings had to be mailed to California, there were strict deadlines. I, of course, stressed the point that no late writings would be accepted. Even the teacher had deadlines to meet on this project!
On the day the final copy was due, I had a call from the main office informing me I had a visitor. Waiting to speak with me was a grandparent of one of my freshman, JD, who just so happened to be absent that day. JD was new to our school his freshman year. He was a quiet, very reserved, average student who seemed to prefer to be left alone. As his grandmother and I talked, she clutched a large, manila envelope. She shared with me some history about JD, a history in which I had absolutely no idea.
She told me how JD did not want to go to school this day, but he knew how important it was to submit his paper regardless. I smiled. My message got through to at least one student! His grandmother began to tell me about the content of JD’s paper which she held securely in her hand. My students’ assignment was to write a story, poem, or essay that had to fall under specific categories for the requirements of the book series. He choose to write under the category Death and Dying. JD wrote about the events of April 19, 1995 in Oklahoma City.
JD’s mom worked in downtown OKC at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. JD was only 10 years old in 1995. He wrote about how excited he was that day when he was sent to the office to go home early with his grandfather and his aunt. In his elementary student mind, he thought it was a special surprise to go out to lunch, but he noticed they had been crying and both of them looked upset. They took him to his home where he met several family members all gathered around the television watching news updates and local, live broadcasts of the event that forever changed his life and his family.
He noticed his mother was not in the room with the family. As he watched the news and saw the rubble that once was the building in which his mother worked, he realized there was a chance his mom would not return home. He saw people of all ages pulled from the wreckage on stretchers and his family desperately looked at the scrolling list of names at the bottom of the screen that reported people who had been rescued.
His mother didn’t come home that Wednesday night or Thursday night, or the night after that. It was over 2 weeks after the bombing and JD’s family finally received news she had been found. JD’s mom worked on the seventh floor of the Murrah Federal Building and she was discovered on the second floor 2 ½ weeks after the bombing. His mom was one of 168 people who did not survive the domestic terrorist bombing of the federal building in downtown Oklahoma City.
When his grandmother finished telling me about JD’s mom, her daughter, and the contents of his paper, we were both in tears. I weakly explained to her that there were other categories he could have selected from to write for the assignment. JD’s grandmother said he assured her he wanted to write about the event; it was something he felt he needed to do, and she expressed how it had been a strengthening experience for him. His counselor for the last 5 years agreed. She handed me the brown, manila envelope as she left. I knew I would see JD differently now because of his strength and this tragedy he experienced at such a young age.
Several months later, I received official notice some of my students’ stories made the final selection for the book Chicken Soup for the Pre-Teen Soul. JD’s essay was one of them! We were both so very proud that his healing words would be a part of the publication. JD and I both received autographed copies from all the authors of the book that contained his essay. This autographed copy is one of my prized pieces from one of my students and his work.