May 11th 2013 01:24 pm

4 Years

Monica Lepper RodriguezWell....I've spent most of the morning writing and re-writing this post; in and out of my head desperately searching for something relevant to say. Last year I simply avoided it altogether, but I ended up feeling selfish and guilty about that so here goes another try this year. What can I say that doesn't end up sounding either terribly depressing at one extreme or obviously a fake masked attempt at gratitude with a charade of celebration.  The fact of the matter is that it seems I try to ignore the truth of our situation most of the year, but on this particular day all the sadness of the world comes crashing down on me at the same time.  It's strange how even allowing a hint of those emotions to poke through ends up releasing a torrent of melancholia ranging from: Why her? to Is Kai's heart healthy? to Does God answer prayers? to How could I let my car get so dirty?  In order to hold back the weight of the emotional burden, I guess I just suppress it all.  At least I have learned how to do that.  I consider it a gift... So....subject change anyone? You might have seen a recent viral video going around about a high school student telling his teacher how to teach.  If you haven't seen it, it's worth a viewing.  In some small way, it invokes a sense of hope for the future of our children, even if those of us in adulthood might be lazy and complacent allowing the world to crumble around us.  Here is a direct link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj5z3dhTpVw As you know, Monica had a profound effect on the lives of many kids as a teacher, coach, missionary, and of course mother.  Over the years, some of these kids have looked her up online in an attempt to reach out to her and thank her.  Each time one of these young people recalls their experiences with Monica, they express how grateful they are  for her nurturing and guidance.  She was not like the teacher in that video causing so much frustration in her students.  She was a beacon of light, and in some cases, even an angel sent to save their lives.  She showed love to kids who questioned it's very existence.  She provided encouragement where all hope was lost.  She truly was an exceptional human being among us.  These stories are her legacy, and although she is not with us today, it's stories like these from people's lives who were genuinely touched by her, that ensure her memory is not forgotten. I have a couple of emails from past students of hers who have agreed to let me share their emails with you.  I hope they touch your heart as much as they did mine:
Mr. Rodriguez,
Its Ray Arroyo, I was in Ms.Rodriguez's 7th grade science class, I think that was the first year she started teaching at McCabe. She was by far my favorite teacher, she even came to a few of our pop warner football games for the Mendota Cobras. I am not sure if you remember or not but I spent a lot of time in the computer lab after school playing that dodge ball game online....  She had a big impact on me, I told her I was going to do big things in the world of science and she actually believed I would, she didn't look at me as some crazy 12 year old like most people did. Currently I am in the United States Navy, a midshipman candidate for the United States Naval Academy...  I want to be a pilot and after I am done with my commissioning, I hope to work for NASA doing something big in the world of science just like I said in 2001. I know you heard it time and time again, but I am sorry for your loss. I plan to a write a book when I am 60, an autobiography about my life which I think will make a real good story....a poor kid immigrating from Mexico and becoming a NASA astronaut,,,,pretty cool story. The book is to acknowledge the people who have helped me  along the way and Ms.Rodrgiuez is one of them. I will not forget how I said "Ms.Lepper, I'm gonna do this some day." And she would pat me in the back and said, "Ray, you can do anything you want." That moment has stuck out in my mind since then. Take care Mr.Rodriguez.
Respectfully
Raymundo Arroyo
Here is another:
Hi Mr. Rodriguez, I am not sure if you remember me. My name is Verenice Andrade, a proud alumni of McCabe Junior High! Ms. Lepper was my 7th grade science teacher and I was her t.a. when she taught language arts the following year. Two weeks ago, I graduated from UC Berkeley and I spent this past week in Mendota.... I ran into an old friend of mine at the new grocery store. In our short conversation, she gave me the news that Ms. Lepper had passed away... (I apologize if I continuously use her maiden name but that was the name that stuck. I met her before she was married and changed her name). I am in utmost shock. My heart hurts. My friend also told me that you had created a website where you posted updates and had photos. I took the liberty of using google to find your site and I have been surfing through it for the past hour and a half or so, reading posts and looking at pictures. Again, my heart is crying. ...I can't help but to feel sad. In November, a childhood friend of mine and long time neighbor passed away--he was my age, 21. I am still coping with death in general and so, hearing that Ms. Lepper is gone is very, very hard for me to believe. Though late, please accept my most sincere condolences. These past few weeks, I have been doing a lot of reflecting and giving a lot of thanks to God for allowing me to end one phase of life--college. In that reflecting, I realized the happiest years of my life (childhood/early adolescence) were during junior high. At that time in my life, I was breaking out of my shyness and discovering that I was good at academics. I tell you this Mr Rodriguez, because during those years, the conversations I had with Ms. Lepper have stayed with me this whole time and have shaped me in one way or another. As a science teacher, she made sure we understood the material, regardless of how many times she would have to repeat herself and we even played "Who wants to be a Millionaire" using physical science as a theme (Sol's Note: I remember sitting next to Monica as she created that game from scratch using PowerPoint as a tool to "develop" her own interactive game!). I remember during that game, when it was my turn to answer a question I took a while to think about it and used a life line. I had the answer at the tip of my tongue but second guessed myself and said the wrong answer. The whole time Ms. Lepper knew that I knew the answer because she looked at me with a very encouraging look. It was a very genuine look that very few people have ever shared with me. Even though I got the answer wrong, that day was one of the most fun days of 7th grade. It was a great day in my 12 year old mind. Later, I grew to appreciate when teachers would use their personal experiences to help students understand the material. I remember when we were learning about temperature, she told us she had lived in Ukraine for a while and didn't have to shave her legs because the winter there was really cold! Somehow, that helped me understand Celsius and Fahrenheit. Her Ukraine story was also in the back of my head all throughout college and so, I decided to go abroad myself. This August I will be taking off to Egypt for one year to continue my education there. Before this turns into a 60 page email, I just want to tell you something I am sure you already know—Ms. Lepper was a great teacher! Had I not had such greatness around me during those years of my life I am sure I would not have been saludatorian when I graduated high school, much less have gotten accepted to Cal, and now graduated from this university. As I grew older, I also understood the hard work teachers are subjected to and I began to think of the teachers that had been influential to my academic development. Ms. Lepper was definitely on the list! I’ve gotten in contact with some of my old teacher and have expressed my gratitude towards them. Ms. Lepper, thank you! Warm Regards, Verenice Andrade McCabe Junior High 2002 Mendota High School 2006 University of California, Berkeley 2010

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