She believes it's essential to keep her students' spirits up during these difficult times.
Since the time schools were forced to shut their doors due to the pandemic, we've heard a number of heartwarming stories about the special relationship teachers share with their students. Many have gone out of their way to help students through the transition from a traditional school setting to virtual classrooms, reminding us over and over again what a selfless profession teaching is. Katherine "Katie" Ricca, a first-grade teacher at North Bay Haven (NBH) Charter Academy in Panama City, Florida, is one such individual who didn't think twice about dropping everything to cheer up one of her young students amid the lockdown.
Ever since NBH transitioned to remote learning at the end of March, Ricca told PEOPLE, she's been holding storytime for her class via Zoom in the hopes of keeping them engaged during this difficult time. "I was planning on doing this twice a week until they begged for me to meet each night," she explained. "My class was very social so it was great for them to be able to see their friends each day. They would talk about their day before I read." Although these virtual class sessions are proving to be quite helpful and engaging for her students, one evening the 29-year-old noticed that her normally "cheerful" student, Hannah Close, seemed uncharacteristically quiet.
Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) March 16, 2020
"Hannah was especially quiet. This was very unusual for her... She put her head down so we couldn’t see her face. I called her name and she didn’t respond," Ricca recalled of their Zoom call on April 2. "I could tell something was bothering her." Her suspicion grew stronger when the 7-year-old signed off early. The mother-of-five reached out to Hannah's mom, Kelley Close, via text message after class to figure out what was bothering the young girl. For Close, receiving such a text from Ricca wasn't out of the ordinary.
"It was just Katie being Katie. She's always checking on her students," she revealed. However, what her daughter's teacher did next really touched her heart. "Hearing that Hannah was sad, I was heartbroken... I just wanted to see her and talk about what’s going on," said Ricca. "Having kids at home, I see how it’s affecting them, so I understood how she felt." She asked Close if she could visit Hannah the next day and spend some time with her in their driveway. "She said, 'Since I'm a teacher, I consider this essential,'" Close recalled.
"That one sentence made me tear up. She's got a husband and five kids at home, and she still considers my daughter's well-being essential," she added. "Zoom is great, but I didn’t think it would be the same. I’ve spent the school year with Hannah and know her heart. Being there in person means more," Ricca explained. And so on April 3, while Hannah was having a picnic out front with her mom and brother, the teacher surprised her student by pulling up in her car outside her home. "She just looked at me with disbelief, like she couldn’t believe I was there," Ricca recalled.
Sitting six feet apart to honor social distancing mandates, the pair chatted about Hannah’s feelings and read some "silly books" in an effort to cheer her up. "At first, I asked how she was doing and she said, 'Happy,' but she later told me that she was feeling sad. I told her that I’m sad too. We talked a little about how feelings are important and that it’s okay to feel sad. I told her some things that make me feel better and reminded her I’m always here if she needs me," said Ricca. "She never did tell me why she felt sad. All she said was, 'I just really feel sad and I don’t know why.' Looking back, I realize how big of a thing it was for a 7-year-old to admit," she added.
Ricca's heartwarming gesture for her student meant a lot to Close, who was moved by the fact that her daughter's teacher cared so much. "It shows me that our teachers really do care about our kids. It reminds me that it takes a village to raise children and our teachers are a vital part of our village. This whole season is hard and frustrating and scary, but as long as we take the time to look after one another, we’ll get through it," she said. "If something’s wrong, say so. If you see someone struggling, reach out. Take care of each other."