August 25, 2006 | 4:40  p.m. ET

Memories of Miss Groves (Ruthie Kamminga, First Grade Teacher of Miss Groves)

Ruthie Kamminga (left), with her former first grade student

Upon arriving home one evening, I, like most people, checked my phone messages and found a request to return a call to a producer for NBC Dateline.  I assumed the call was from a friend of mine playing a trick on me.   I thought why would anyone from NBC Dateline be calling me?  I returned the call and realized it was a legitimate request.  The focus of the call was to inform me that one of my former first grade students, Monica Groves, had been selected to be shadowed by NBC Dateline during her first year of teaching in the  Teach for America program.  During Monica’s interviews, she stated that I, as her first grader teacher, was an inspiration for the selection of her vocation.   I was thrilled to learn that Monica had recalled so many specific, positive memories from her first grade educational experience.

Arrangements were made by Izhar Harpaz, the producer, to interview me at my home in Grand Ledge, MI.  I eagerly anticipated the arrival of Izhar and the camera crew.  I was nervous, but Izhar and the crew quickly put me at ease.  Izhar shared with me that he, his associate producer, film crew, and correspondent had been observing and filming Monica since her arrival in the staff parking lot the first day of being a teacher.  

Video: A teacher discovers her impact

When our interview concluded, we drove to Delta Center Elementary School, where Monica attended, and I taught, first grade for the Grand Ledge Public Schools.  Present principal, Dave Averill, met and accompanied us to my former classroom.  There, the filming continued in my former classroom, as I walked around reminiscing where Monica used to sit, raised her hand, and wrote on the chalkboard during phonics lessons. 

It was easy to recall wonderful memories of young Monica. She was the sweetest first grader and looked darling in her braided, piggy-tails. Monica was consistently cooperative in our classroom, as well as being an active learner. She loved learning!  I remember how proud she was when she was our V. I. P. (Very Important Person) of the Week. Monica, especially, enjoyed learning about the elements of art and was proud when she expressed herself using various art styles.  I, also, remember looking forward to seeing Monica’s Grandma Groves, a former educator, when she would pick up Monica from school.  We would talk about education, and I would share how well Monica was doing as a first grader.

It was obvious to me that education was a priority in the Groves family. Besides Monica’s Grandma Groves being a teacher and principal, her aunt was an educator, and a great-aunt authored three books. Monica’s father, an attorney and author, also teaches law at Lewis & Clark University.  So, it wasn’t a surprise to me that Monica chose to work with young people, also.  

Izhar’s next suggestion caught me by surprise!  He suggested that I fly to Atlanta and make a surprise visit to Monica’s sixth grade classroom.  With great anticipation, I immediately accepted Izhar’s offer.  I clearlyremember the perfect May morning of my visit.  Izhar picked me up at the hotel and drove us to Monica’s middle school.  I anxiously sat with news correspondent, Hoda Kotb, in the car while waiting for the camera man to give us the “OK” to enter the school.  I just couldn’t believe that within minutes, I’d be walking into Monica’s classroom at Jean Childs Young Middle School and seeing Monica as a teacher.  When I walked into the center of her classroom, there was Monica visiting with a colleague and the crew, while she waited for her students to return from lunch.  (Monica and her students were very used to having the Dateline staff and crew in her room).  When she glanced my way, Monica acknowledged (but did not immediately recognize) me and asked if she could help me.  After a few comments, and giving Monica a clue that she used to sit in front of me wearing little piggy-tails, Monica realized who I was, and said, “Mrs. Kamminga!”  Her face was priceless!  After 18 years, it was very emotional for both of us, and we just kept having tears and hugging each other! 

What a treat it was to spend the rest of the day in Monica’s classroom and watch her teach!  I had the opportunity to introduce myself and explain to her students who I was and why I was visiting their classroom.  It was fun interacting with her students.  I even shared with her students enlarged pictures of Monica as a first grader, so they could see how cute she was!  An extra bonus for me that day was attending the school’s 2004-2005 Honor Banquet, Honoring High Achievement, at the Atlanta Convention Center.  The evening ended with Monica returning to my hotel so we could visit and catch up on each other’s lives.  This day truly was one of the highlights of my life!

If I could, I would give Miss Groves a big smiley face sticker!  I couldn’t be more proud of one of my students than I am of Monica. Monica is just as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside!  Her approach to students is that of a caring teacher, taking a personal interest in each of them.  Monica believes that she can make a difference in the lives of her students by encouraging them to be hard-working, dedicated to success, and to actualize a sense of self-worth.  Her belief is strong that all students deserve to have a quality education. She believes that her positive modeling will encourage her students to do their very best. 

I am amazed that Monica remembers so many of her first grade experiences in our classroom, as well as the values, she recalls, I tried to instill in my students. Now, Monica has implemented these values in her own classroom. The students in Monica’s classroom were very fortunate to have a teacher with such an optimistic approach to their education. The goal of every teacher is to make a lasting contribution in the lives of their students.  It was my pleasure to observe Monica, a successful student from my classroom, making a difference in the lives of her students.

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