Indiana Teacher Creates Flexible Barrier To Give Her Students Hugs
One of the most stressful and sad things, for me, about post coronavirus COVID-19, is that fact that hugs might be looked upon as bad. That we will stop hugging. I’m a hugger, from a long line of huggers and I miss hugging people. Except for my reluctant husband and teenage son, I haven’t hugged anybody for over two months.
It’s how I greet greet people. I feel like hugs make everyone feel good. I think it's an important part of human connection. But, it looks like, at least for now, they may be a thing of the past. That makes my heart sad.
When I came across the story of a teacher who created plastic, flexible barrier so that she could give her students hugs, I felt connected to her. She knows how important a hug can be for a child. Kelsey Pavelka is a school teacher at West View Elementary in Muncie, IN. But, before I tell you more about the hugs she gave her students, I have to share my hugging story with you.
When I was teaching high school theatre, a skinny and shy freshman boy showed up in my auditorium looking for a place to belong. He said he wasn’t interested on auditioning or being on stage, but he just wanted to be there. I asked him if he played video games, he said he did and that he was very good. I told him I could use him on the tech side of things. I gave him a seat at the light board and told him to push the buttons when I told him to.
He did lights for my show for the next four years. During that time, he observed me giving hugs to basically everybody, including him. It was a running joke that when I would give him a hug, he never hugged me back. He said it was because he didn’t know how. But, I kept hugging him anyway even if he just stood there smiling and laughing.
During his senior year, we were reedy to open his final show before he graduated. Before every show, it was tradition that before the cast and crew would take the places, we would do something we called round the wagons. The underclassmen would get in a big circle on the stage and the seniors would form a smaller circle in the middle. It was at this time those who wanted to would say something positive and encouraging to the rest of the students. After everyone had a chance to speak, the seniors would begin saying whatever then wanted to say. Sometimes it was a list of thank you, other times it was filled with inside jokes and stories form behind the scenes or on stage. many times there were tears for a time they had loved and a time they would now have to say goodbye to.
The year that be would graduate he had changed a lot. He had gown to be well over 6 feet tall, his voice had changed into a man’s voice and he had taken a leadership role within the group. And, when it was his turn to speak, hay he had to say has stayed with me all this time. It left me speechless and in tears.
He read what he wanted to say on a few sheets of notebook paper. Once the funny stories and thank you’s were over, he turned his attention to me. I was standing on the opposite side of the circle. Looking at me, he told the story of coming into my auditorium 4 years before and how he ended up learning how to program the lights and teach others. He spoke of how important it had been that he find his place within get walls of the school. A place to fit in and be accepted and encouraged. While talking, he walked slowly across the circle to stand in front of me. Once he was there, he said that out of all the things I had taught him, the most important thing was that I taught him how to hug. He then, with tear in his eyes, he wrapped his arms around me and squeezed me tightly. Something he had never done before. He had grown up without hugs, and he had no idea the impact a simple hug would have on his life until I haver him his first supportive and proud hug.
Never underestimate the power that a teacher has to change their students for the better. Yes, they are preparing them for life with basis educational knowledge so that they can get a job, go to college and live a successful life. But, a teacher can transform mindsets and give wings to students with things that have nothing to do with reading, writing, history, science, or math. A teacher can give a hug to a student and open up the person to who they are meant to be.
Hugs are important, I hope they don’t go away. Just look at the impact Mrs. Pavelka has on her students. They needed her hugs so she was going to make sure they got them.
Mrs. Pavelka even made it to the national news with her hugs,