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Tampa kindergarten teacher brought birthday surprise to student stuck at home

Lily, 6, didn’t get to spend the day with her classroom friends. But one came to her.
Mabry Elementary School teacher Jennifer Buckley brought a birthday surprise to her student, kindergartener Lily Wolfe. [Courtesy of Sherry and Adam Wolfe]

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TAMPA — Staying at home during the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t been too bad for kindergartener Lily Wolfe.

She gets to swim in her family’s pool and explore the neighborhood on her bicycle. Her parents even bought walkie talkies so she could chat with her friend across the street.

One thing has been rough, though. Lily couldn’t be with her classmates at Mabry Elementary School on Tuesday to celebrate her sixth birthday.

Luckily, her teacher had a plan. Jennifer Buckley would bring the birthday cheer to Lily.

“She texted us that morning and just said have Lily stand on our front porch,” said Lily’s dad, Adam Wolfe. “That was it. It was really cryptic.”

Five minutes later, Buckley was driving around the corner in her grey Volkswagen Tiguan, blasting the happy birthday song out of her open car windows.

She danced behind the wheel, singing along as she pulled into the driveway. A colorful poster on the side of the vehicle read, “Happy 6th birthday Lily.”

Jennifer Buckley drove up to Lily Wolfe's home to celebrate her student's sixth birthday, but stayed in the car to maintain a safe distance. [Courtesy of Sherry and Adam Wolfe]

The idea came to Buckley while she cleaned out her classroom that morning. As she grabbed supplies to bring home for virtual lessons, she spotted the calendar listing all of her students’ birthdays. She realized Lily’s birthday was that day.

“In kindergarten we make such a big deal on their birthdays," Buckley said.

“They get to go to treasure box and the whole school sings happy birthday to them. I know she was really looking forward to that."

Lily Wolfe turned 6 on March 24. She couldn't celebrate with her classmates because schools have closed to slow the spread of coronavirus. [Courtesy of Sherry and Adam Wolfe]

Even though Lily wouldn’t get to wear a fun hat or enjoy popsicles with her classmates, Buckley knew she could still make the day special. She quickly colored a message with markers and taped the poster to her car. Then she headed over to the South Tampa neighborhood where the Wolfe family lives.

Lily was stunned to see Buckley on her street, and outside of the classroom.

“First I thought she wasn’t my teacher," Lily said. “Then I knew it...she went all this way to celebrate my birthday."

Lily ran barefoot down the driveway, clutching her hair in surprise. She stopped before getting too close. Buckley stayed in the car, waving and blowing kisses.

“She’s a very smart girl, so I think she kind of knew what was going on just from hearing from her parents,” Buckley said. “Normally I would have hopped out of the car, given her the biggest hug and chatted with her...but we weren’t able to do that.”

Adam Wolfe had to fight the instinct invite Buckley inside. He settled with waving back as she drove away.

Even though the visit was brief, it made all the difference.

“It means so much, not just to the children, but to all of us,” Adam Wolfe said. “Just to have a little thing of joy."

He added, "That’s a good thing to spread: Joy rather than viruses.”

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