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Fourth grade was decades ago, but at least one student has not forgotten him.

It’s because of this teacher that I know that learning is one of the best things about being alive.

Fourth grade was decades ago, but at least one student has not forgotten him.

To him, I am probably long gone, lost in a distant sea of the thousands of students he led through the rough waters of institutional learning.

My fourth-grade class! Photo provided by Tina Plantamura, used with permission.


My face is one of many elementary school students that came and went while under his care in fourth grade. And to him, the story I tell might be familiar. It’s been so many years, and I know it might be hard to remember. But I will never forget that teacher.

It’s because of this teacher that I know that learning is one of the best things about being alive.

Learning was always an adventure in his fourth-grade classroom. He encouraged creativity and imagination.

And because of him, I have done the same for my three children. It was in his class that I read my first novel from cover to cover. And decades later, I bought that same book and read it with my son.

I know he doesn’t remember the last assignment I handed in, but I do.

I thought it was perfect. I hoped for a good grade. And one day after I put it on his desk, I also told him I was moving. I had only found out the night before.

He asked me why and for some reason I told him. I never told anyone else, but I stood there and told him the truth. I told him that my family was falling apart and my mother decided it was time to leave my father.

He told the rest of the class that it was free time, so they could talk and play.

He walked me out to the hallway. We talked for over an hour.

He probably doesn’t remember that day, but he’s probably familiar with something Maya Angelou has said: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

I don’t remember exactly what he said because it was so long ago.

But I remember that out in that dark and echoing hallway, for the first time in my life, I spoke freely. Standing in front of him, I somehow knew that I didn’t have to be afraid. He listened patiently and attentively. He made me feel important.

When I cried a little, he didn’t tell me to stop, he just waited until I wiped my tears and composed myself enough to speak again. Maybe he called me brave, because that was how I felt.

That was the last time I saw him.

The next day, we left my father.

We packed what would fit in suitcases. I said goodbye to all of my toys and stuffed animals. I looked at our bedroom for the last time. I glanced at the stack of picture albums that held images of the first nine years of my life, not knowing that those years would be nearly erased.

My mother mustered up all the bravery she could find and we left. We got in a car and drove far away.

Fourth grade was decades ago for me.

He might have grey or thinning hair by now. He might not have same bounce in his step or the same energy he had when he stood in front of me and the other students.

The glasses he wears might have a stronger prescription now, and he might be leaner or rounder. He may have retired from teaching or moved up and on to something else. He might be resting on his laurels after a long and challenging career.

But I hope that somehow he knows that he helped change the world for one little girl.

He gave me a glimmer of hope. He gifted me with a love of learning. I was freed from the burden of secrecy and fear because he encouraged me to speak.

I hope he realizes that his worth is far beyond the highest salary he has ever earned. He helped a fearful child find her voice. And I hope other teachers realize that one measure of patience or one conversation or one moment of compassion can save a student.

A teacher like him must have many students who say that their lives changed for the better because of him.

So I hope he never has moments when he wonders about his worth. I hope he never worries that he didn’t do enough. And I hope his heart and spirit are strong and keep him standing should life ever pull him down or make him think that his efforts were futile.

But should he ever feel useless and weak, should he ever wish that he did something unforgettable, should he ever fear that he is not enough, and should he ever wonder if his actions inspired someone ... I hope he'll take a moment to think about all of the students he had and all the things he did and said that changed so many young lives.

I hope he knows that his heart, his time, and his energy make him unforgettable to so many kids like me.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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