The most, ugly misshapen box I had ever seen was blocking my path as I walked down the hallway at Joplin East Middle School where I teach eighth grade English last month during the first week of school. As I executed what I thought was a crisp, evasive move to keep from tripping and falling flat on my face, our long-suffering secretary said, “Mt. Turner, you need to move your box.”
I started to protest that it wasn’t my box, but a quick glance at the recipient’s address showed that whatever this cardboard mutation was, it was most definitely mine.
I started to lift it and found that to be an almost impossible task- it was heavy beyond belief so I managed to get it onto a dolly through a series of contortions and wheeled it to my room. I opened it and saw it was a box of books, one of many such gifts my school has received since our building was destroyed in the May 22 tornado that ripped through more than one third of our city.
Since that time, the misshapen box has sat in a corner of my room, sadly fitting in with the rest of my décor- until this morning. As I was unpacking a box of dictionaries I had received through the Adopt-A-Classroom program, I decided it was time to dive into the box and put the books on the shelves.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the books were by some of the top authors for young people, and since I have my students do a third quarter research project on the American Civil Rights Movement, I was overjoyed to see eight copies of Rosa Parks’ autobiography.
I was just about to throw away what was left of that misshapen box, when I saw an envelope peeking out from under rolled up paper shopping bag that had been placed between some of the books. The envelope was addressed to “Mr. Turner.”
When I opened it, I was blown away by the message:
Dear Mr. Turner:
Hi! My name is Jane and I am from New York City. I am going into the seventh grade. When I heard about the tornado in Joplin, I felt awful. My mom thought it would be a great idea to help somehow. We found your blog about the damage to your school. The funny thing is that you are at East Middle School and I go to East Side Middle School. I thought that was a cool connection.
I put up signs in my building and left a box outside my door. Pretty soon, I received a bunch of books to donate to your school. I could not wait to send them. I hope that they help rebuild your library.
Have a good rest of the summer and a great school year.
P. S. I hope your class likes the books.
At the beginning of my classes today, my students will learn about the books seventh grader Jane Walsh contributed and learn a valuable lesson about what one person can accomplish when she sets her mind to something. In the not too distant future, Jane will receive thank-you letters from the people whose lives she has enriched through this simple, thoughtful gift.
For the last three months, the people at Joplin East Middle School and the rest of this community have seen over and over just how many good people are in this world. We have been overwhelmed by their kindness and generosity.
We have been introduced to thousands of people who have reached out their hands and hearts to this community. But for this teacher, in this eighth grade classroom, a seventh grader from New York City has catapulted to the top of the list.
Thank you, Jane.