Room 406: A Story of Bravery, Love & Resiliency

By Guest Blogger Kelly Nichols

Seems like I have been teaching forever. Although each group of students somehow gels differently, I love putting together the unique riddle that is a child. I take care in doing it because I seek to uncover the extraordinary. This year, the puzzles have come together in ways I never dreamed I’d see in a classroom. Our little family encountered a tragedy. September 30 was that last day that one of our own was able to join us. Sweet Emma, the quiet soul who lights up the room when she smiles, has been diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. I know we are not her family by blood but we are her family nonetheless. We love her. Of this I am certain.

Emma’s parents so graciously allowed me to visit her that first day at Brenner’s. They were exhausted, confused, and yet welcoming. My Emma was there with that smile on her face. We talked, we laughed, and she even asked for work. Circumstances did not define this one. She was planning ahead.  When I asked her what she wanted me to tell the class, she replied, “Just tell them that my leg hurts and I am in the hospital.”

Delivering that message to a room full of inquisitive souls was challenging. Questions were left unanswered. I didn’t think it was my place. Parents received an email explanation along with encouragement to share what each thought was necessary. The inhabitants of room 406 became, in those few moments, bonded in our angst for the one who wasn’t there.

A member of our family was away and none of us were sure what to do. We didn’t fully (nor do we still) comprehend just what it means. What we do know is that it feels wrong and we have to do something.

On one visit, Emma’s grandmother mentioned to me that they had a table set up for Emma to paint rocks and we could help by finding smooth ones. That was the weekend hurricane Matthew came through. Nonetheless students braved the weather to find stones for me to deliver. One rough and tumble boy even searched the creek in his back yard for the perfect stone. He presented his find to me as if it were a gem.

The kids were thrilled to know that Emma would be keeping up with classwork. That insinuated a promise that she would return. They collected items I did not even think of to be certain Emma had it all. One child even took a book out of her desk. She had been following my read aloud. She thought Emma should keep up so when she returns, she’ll know exactly where we are.

Two weeks to the day, Emma was able to return. Four days after her first chemo treatment, that brave nine-year-old marched down the hall to room 406. If you’ve read the story of the prodigal son, you know the joy that exploded in our classroom. We couldn’t get enough of her; none of us could. We wanted to sit with her, touch her, play with her at recess, and chat with her. No wonder she tuckered out after a couple of hours. She left and our tears flowed. We tried to talk about how to act when she came back. But seriously, how do you treat someone “normally” when you are just so happy she is there?

I’ve seen real compassion, genuine caring, sincere joy, deep sorrow, utter confusion, and selflessness from a precious group of children. They all happen to be mine for the moment. We are a family, surrounding, protecting our missing member. We talk about her constantly. We miss her every day. We will support her like the family we’ve become. She’s ours and we claim her.

We’ve just finished a book in which the Italian grandmother often uses the phrase “Tutto va bene” (All is well). Talking with a group, one child explained, “It’s like it is with Emma. Life has its ups and downs. It goes through good times and bad.  But in the end, all is well.” And you know, somehow I know it will be.

30 thoughts on “Room 406: A Story of Bravery, Love & Resiliency

  1. Kathy Holden

    I am a teacher and your story inspired me and made me cry. Thank you for sharing the goings-on in your classroom regarding this student.

  2. Sally Lambeth

    Oh my sweet Kelly. Your words brought tears. I have always loved how you love with your whole heart and inspire others to do the same. Since we met when I was a little swimmer/diver and you were my coach/babysitter, I’ve always been struck by your ability to bring joy to others’ lives: you truly truly care about people, especially children. I can’t imagine what Lee and Meagan are going through, or how you explain it to your students, but one thing I know is that they have the best teacher in the country, in my humble opinion, to be there to love all of them through this. God bless you Kelly. Praying for Emma and for you and for her class family.

  3. Leah Boyette

    Thanks for loving such a wonderful girl and helping support her amazing family. I appreciate this very much. We are cheering on Emma from Florida.

  4. Anonymous

    Kelly, thank you for lovin’ on our babies! Zoë prays for Emma every night… we know that God can cary the family through this hard time and heal Emma!

  5. Anonymous

    You are a compassionate teacher beyond words, I am so thankful for teachers like you in this world! I know Emma will get through this with such an incredible family and teacher in her life! Thanks you for all you do for children!

  6. Anonymous

    As a retired teacher I am moved by the love you have for your kids. You are what we should be reading about in the news. Prayers for Emma. God knew she needed to be in your class.

  7. Audrey Meixner

    Incredibly beautiful. Tears flowed thinking about Emma, her loving teacher and amazing classmates. Prayers for all.

  8. Anonymous

    As a teacher, I am very moved by your words. I can’t imagine the difficulty you and your students are facing.
    I am also a relative of Emma’s. Although I have never met her. Her granddaddy and my daddy are cousins. Her granddaddy is an eloquent writer, just as you. I hope your beautiful words bring him and the family comfort as they face this difficult time.
    Keep lighting your fire with young children.❤️

  9. Ellen Evatt

    This brought tears to my eyes. Emma is truly blessed to be surrounded by such a gifted, compassionate teacher as well as her classmates.

  10. Kelly

    Thank you for sharing this story! I’m crying at work because of the obvious love that you and your class have for Emma.

  11. Paula

    Beautiful thoughts, actions, and kindness for Sweet Emma. I think that we know that if it was another classmate in need Emma would lead the way to help them. May all of us keep her in our thoughts, prayers, and hearts. 💕

  12. Paula

    This is so beautiful! Emma is such an outstanding young lady. I feel Blessed to know her. Thank you Room 406 for helping to care for Emma. Sounds like that room is full of wonderful, caring people💖💕💖💕

  13. Sande Parrish

    You are a gifted writer and your audience is hanging on your every word. As one of her Grandmother’s teacher buddies, your account has enlightened us in such a beautiful way. Emma is covered in prayer- and with her own strong faith she will have a huge testimony for all!
    Thank you!

  14. Laura

    Thank you, Kelly Nichols, for the nurturing impact you are having on Emma and all of your children in Room 406. We all love you!

  15. Julie G

    Thank you for sharing this special story from your classroom. It shows so much more to us all about the power of a strong teacher. Thank you for guiding these young souls through a tough time with grace and wisdom.

  16. Anonymous

    This was great! Thanks for sharing! I want to know the name of the book with the Italian Grandmother. This is a great story

  17. Samantha Gainey

    This makes me weep for the compassion and care this teacher is modeling in her classroom. Still praying for Emma! Tutto Va Bene!

  18. Anonymous

    It is hard as an adult to wrap our mind around the word “cancer” so I can’t even fathom the thoughts of a child. The environment that has been created at MES is truly special and these children will learn and teach lessons through each other that will shape the kind of compassionate adults that we hope for. Sweet Emma, her family, and her classmates are in our prayers.

  19. Beth Rudisill

    So thankful for the many children whose lives have been enriched by this brilliant, compassionate and committed teacher. Emma and the rest of the class in room 406 are better from having been under your leadership! ❤️

  20. Lolly

    Oh my gracious this is so beautiful! The tears won’t stop! Thank you so much for loving our girl like your own! You are a remarkable teacher Kelly!!

  21. Jenn Witherow

    A beautiful story told by a truly amazing woman who holds those children more dear than some parents. The love that beams from MES is because the children shine from all the hard work & ‘polishing’ the teachers put in. I’m a proud mom of 4 that are/have been at MES. Even more proud to call Kelly a friend. They are a family & they are all very proud of each other-teachers & children combined!

  22. Michelle

    You are a blessing and so are all these sweet children! Thank you for this loving look inside a part of our beloved Emma’s life.
    The Bell Family


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