Four years ago, Shelly Slocum entered public school for the first time.
Now, only a few days away from high school graduation, the Ocean Lakes High School (OLHS) senior is writing letters to every teacher and guidance counselor she has had in high school to let them know how much they have impacted her in a positive way.
“There’s no telling how my life would have turned out if teachers like you didn’t care so much and helped me through it,” Slocum writes in one of 32 letters that she plans to deliver before graduation.
“They’ve helped me a lot, like staying after school or helping when I was struggling with schoolwork,” she recalls. “I don’t know if they’ll remember me, but I want them to know how they’ve affected everyone, including the quiet girl at the back of the class.”
She’s already written 11 letters and delivered a few of them, recalling vivid details in each one about how her time in their class made a difference.
“I try to remember being in their class and how they’ve helped me so it’s specific to each person, not just, ‘Hey, thanks.’”
As an example of that specificity, the aspiring journalist recalls how OLHS English teacher Katie Anderson helped her to discover journalism.
“I’ve always like writing, but I think it was freshman year when Mrs. Anderson showed us how to write in different formats of essays and that there was so much more to writing,” Slocum said. “I thought to myself, ‘This is fantastic.’” Slocum recounts not knowing what journalism was at the time, but does remember the moment that Mrs. Anderson distributed a flyer and encouraged students to join the school’s journalism staff.
“I didn’t know what it was at the time and now I’m going to be a journalist.”
Anderson, who received her letter earlier this school year, says that she keeps Slocum’s letter in a page protector at the front of her gradebook binder as a reminder of the importance of her job and the relationships she forms with students.
“It was incredibly sweet and kind, but I must say it wasn’t surprising or out of character,” Anderson stated. “Shelly has always been thoughtful and valued the relationships she has with her peers and teachers and these letters show her understanding of the value of human interaction.”
Similarly, OLHS journalism teacher Fara Wiles, who has seen Slocum grow from a staff reporter to now senior commentary and managing editor of the school’s journalism team, says that she will keep Slocum’s letter in her “happy folder,” along with other cherished keepsakes.
“I love knowing that I can make a difference in a student’s life,” Wiles added. She also said that Slocum’s letter nearly brought her to tears of joy.
The sentiment that every teacher makes a difference is not lost in Slocum. It’s the precise reason why she is writing a letter to all of her 32 high school teachers, rather than only those who impacted her most.
“They all helped me in some way or another so I wanted to thank everyone.”
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