LEON —“When I go to the doctor, I say I have two biological children and 153 others,” Gail Stewart, former parent-teacher coordinator at Leon Elementary said.
Stewart, known affectionately as “Miss Gail,” had to give up her position at the start of this school year due to the progression of the disease, scleroderma, which she is currently fighting.
Recently, staff and students at Leon Elementary created an elaborate ruse to get “Miss Gail” back to school, begging her to come to a teacher appreciation dinner — and although teachers and staff were honored as well, so was Stewart, in a special, covert way. Stewart said she wasn’t feeling well that day and nearly backed out of it, but decided to attend. Upon her arrival at school, she was greeted by every student standing on the front lawn.
“The neighbors probably thought it was some wild fire drill at that point,” Stewart joked.
However, the affection and love from the students and staff was no joke at all. Stewart was treated to poems, portraits, cards and tissue flowers make exclusively in her honor. In addition, students and staff planted her favorite tree, a pink dogwood, in front of the school for her so she can visit it whenever she likes.
“It was the biggest uplift I’ve ever had,” Stewart said of her special day at Leon Elementary. “It felt good. I was afraid they were going to forget me but they’re not forgetting me.”
Stewart spent 14 years as a parent-teacher coordinator or “catch all” for many school activities. She became heavily involved in students’ lives over the years.
“I wanted them (the students) to understand they have someone that loves them,” Stewart said of her work at Leon. “I hope that I can teach them there’s a bigger world where they can go and explore. When I give them extra help on projects, I hope they remember they can get help if needed.”
Stewart’s goal is to some day return to her position at Leon Elementary, which she said broke her heart to leave. The kids are a big reason why she’s fighting her disease.
“One of the biggest reasons why I have fought this disease is because I know I need them (students) as much as they need me and I love each and every one of them,” Stewart said.