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Mystery messenger delivers cheer to Northwest Elementary

HUDSON

The notes started appearing around Northwest Elementary School during the first week of classes. "People should be more like you," one read. "We're all in this together," stated another. First-grade teacher Lindsey Lopez got an e-card. She thought it was spam. "Once I clicked on the link and read it, I was just so happy," Lopez said, recalling its message of appreciation for all that she does for children. She can't help but wonder who's the messenger of all this good cheer.

"I want to make this person feel good, too," Lopez said.

But nine weeks into the school year, the mystery remains for the Northwest staff as they continue to receive weekly messages of inspiration from an anonymous angel.

They've gotten rocks painted with the phrase "You Rock." They've received paint color swatches with little drawings of flowers and smiley faces and supportive words including "perceptive," "kind" and "witty" under their name.

Last week, everyone got a dictionary page with his or her name printed in colorful marker and arrows pointing to a carefully chosen word and definition, with the added note "you are …"

"It really does make you feel good," said first- and second-grade resource teacher Tammy Hickey, who has all the cards and messages displayed in her classroom. "Some days, you are moved to tears because of these."

Or laughter.

She and others mentioned specifically a crown painted at head level on a women's restroom mirror, so it looks like they're wearing a crown as they wash their hands.

At a time when teacher morale is low for a variety of reasons, from stagnant pay to increasing responsibilities and changing evaluations, many at Northwest see this small gesture as a welcome respite.

"It's awesome," said fourth-grade special education teacher Christine Hollander. "It's somebody trying to make things lighter. … It just makes you forget the other things and remember what we're here for, and I love that."

At first, the staff didn't realize the notes were widespread.

"It was like, who is being silly?" instructional technology assistant April Kalloch said. "Then as they kept coming, more staff started talking about it."

Now the conversation often veers to the question of who's behind this spate of goodwill.

Everyone is fairly certain that it's a person who works for the school. Who else knows each person well enough to make personalized notes, they wonder. Plus, who else could move through the school without attracting attention?

"I'm usually here by 7:30 a.m., and I'm here until at least 5 p.m.," principal Tracy Graziaplene said. "I don't see them."

Graziaplene isn't sure she even wants to know.

"It's exciting and kind of cool that it's anonymous," she said, likening the school's greeting elf to a masked superhero. "We kind of need a superhero or a mystical creature to keep us uplifted."

Even Lopez, who really wants to learn the person's identity, isn't really certain about that.

"I so want to know. But I'm scared, though, because I don't want it to end," she said.

If that happens, the generosity won't be forgotten.

"This is all going in my warm fuzzy file," said Hickey. "I will keep them forever. One day, when I am old and gray, I will pull them out and look at them."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Mystery messenger delivers cheer to Northwest Elementary 10/22/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 22, 2011 1:10pm]
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