By Liza Miley
NHMS Language Arts Teacher
Special to the Packet
What is a hero to you? To many people when they think of heroes, they think of cartoon characters, presidents, or professional athletes. For myself, when I think of a hero, I think of Roberta Weeks. She is the type of person that you don’t even have to call upon to ask for help. When she sees a need for someone, she is there to help before you even have to ask.
I met Roberta many years ago during my first years of teaching. I was teaching an eighth grade teenage girl that was struggling in many of her classes with both academics and behavior. I quickly bonded with this girl and found out that she was living in a group home for at risk teenage girls. When I spoke with her house mother, I was immediately impressed with the love and influence that the house mother (Roberta Weeks) was having on the life of this group of girls that she was helping to raise. Deep down I wondered to myself how in the world someone could ever open up their home unselfishly for a group of at risk teenage girls and allow them to come in and live. Not only was she raising these girls, but also she had three children of her own that she was raising. As I got to know many of these girls and got to know Roberta, I was amazed at how Roberta faced and handled challenges on a daily basis. These girls loved, admired, and respected Roberta. I knew this was because of the love, respect, and admiration that Roberta gave freely to these girls.
I have always thought the world of Roberta and have always thought that she was a giving and selfless person. I have looked up to her and wondered many times how she always seems to have it together. She takes care of her own personal family, works at her own job, volunteers at the school, and volunteers in the community. During this school year though, I was blown away at the level of service and servanthood that she has shown.
This past fall I had an ESL student placed in my Language Arts classroom at New Hope Middle School. I was both excited and anxious at the same time. Helping at risk students is an everyday challenge that I face in my classroom each day, however I’ve never had an ESL student. Not only was this student very limited in his speaking and comprehension of English, but also he was painfully shy. I was very eager to help him but didn’t know where to begin due to the fact that I had very few ESL resources. Teachers are always sharing ideas and resources, but I didn’t know anyone that had ever taught an ESL student. Without revealing any information about my student, I made a post on Facebook asking my friends if they had any ideas, resources, or suggestions that I could use in my classroom for my ESL student. Roberta saw this post and immediately responded with suggestions and offered to help. Roberta herself had a Hispanic background and spoke Spanish fluently. The very next day she came to our school and met with my student. She acquired forms that had not been returned by this student that were required by the State Department of Education, our Lowndes County School District, and New Hope Middle School. She personally took these forms to the home of my student and introduced herself to his parents. When she learned that my student had a brother in the high school and a brother in kindergarten she obtained forms for them as well. She translated and helped the family complete these forms for all three students of the New Hope Schools. She also purchased supplies and CD sets with her own money for my student to use to learn common English words and phrases.
Roberta didn’t stop there in helping the family. Since the children had never been to a doctor or a dentist, she found nurse practitioners, doctors, and dentists that offered free or inexpensive services. She even took the four month old baby brother to the pediatrician. When Roberta realized that the mother didn’t have much clothing for this infant, she called on members of the New Hope community to make clothing donations. She even bought and donated many of her own personal items for this family. From TVs to bedding, Roberta made sure this family had every need met.
During this school year, there are times that I couldn’t have been the teacher that I needed to be for my ESL student without the help of Roberta. When our school district became without an ESL teacher at New Hope, Roberta was there to tutor and assist my student. She quickly bonded with him and also began helping his older brother in the high school and younger brother in the elementary school. She has even helped their cousin that attends NHES. If I need something translated she is right there. If I need information to be given to the family, she personally takes it and translates it for me. She has been available to me 24/7 during this school year and has helped me in more ways than I can count to work towards our NHMS school improvement plan. Most importantly, she has motivated my ESL student and his brothers to strive to learn English and do well in school.
Roberta has also encouraged my own students to support and encourage my ESL student. She has explained to them what life can be like for many people in Mexico. When we completed a unit on how America is changing because of immigrants, she encouraged them to learn a few words in Spanish so that they could communicate with this student. They were eager to learn and my ESL student quickly became a “superstar” in their eyes instead of being given a stereotype because of his background. These middle school students loved him and helped him because of his differences. They loved hearing Roberta speak in Spanish and were amazed to hear their painfully shy classmate communicate back with her in Spanish. Roberta has helped these students and made an everlasting impact on their lives by teaching them the life lessons that you will never learn from a textbook.
A couple of weeks ago when I told my ESL student that Roberta was being awarded the NHMS Parent of the Year and was being nominated for the LCSD Parent of the Year (of course I had to type it up and translate it through Bing), he was overjoyed. I asked him to type in Spanish on the computer and tell me what Roberta meant to him. When I translated it I could have cried because of how much of an impact Roberta had made in his life. He said that she was his American mother. He said that she loved him and believed he could have a better life.
Even though Roberta doesn’t have children in the middle school during this school year, she has actually spent more time at the school during this school year alone compared to all of the previous years combined. She has helped the faculty and staff by translating forms and needed information for this ESL student and his family. She has translated work from this student’s classes and even helped him to study. She has done all of this without pay, even when it was offered to her. She has taken away time from her own personal job and time away from her family in order to give back to New Hope Middle School. She has made a difference in this school, our faculty/staff, and our students. The difference she has made in the lives of the English speaking students is something that will forever change their perspective when speaking, working, or dealing with people from a Latino background. Most of all, she has made a difference in the life of my ESL student and his family that few people ever take the time to make – especially without pay.
There was hardly a dry eye during the presentation of the award for Roberta last Friday when she received the Lowndes County School District’s Parent of the Year award. As Kelly Brown read over the reasons why she had been chosen for this honor, everyone knew without a doubt that she was well deserving of this honor. As my ESL student and his entire family watched as Roberta received this award, I glanced over at Roberta’s 11 year old daughter and saw tears of joy and pride streaming down her sweet little face. She was so touched and so moved by her very own mother. It was evident that Roberta had left footprints on the hearts of so many people in her life – most importantly on the hearts of her very own family members that were there to celebrate with her.
Roberta hasn’t received many awards or much recognition for the good deeds she has done in her life. That’s not the reason that she does so much to help so many people. She has made me want to be a better person and has helped me to become a better teacher. She has shown so many people what it means to be selfless and to give to those who may not ever be able to give back. In my eyes, she was quite deserving of the Lowndes County Parent of the Year award. Because of her, some of the needs my classroom, our school, and the Lowndes County School District were easily met. Without this hero – this ESL student and his family may have never known the hospitality of our community and the joys of being an American. She has made a difference in the lives of so many people for so many years and I know without a doubt that she is not finished yet!!