Ana Reyes will never forget the woman who threw her a life raft in a sea of confusion — although for decades, she couldn’t remember her name.
The 46-year-old is an award-winning attorney who practices in Washington D.C. Without her first-grade teacher, she knows she wouldn’t be the successful woman she is today!
Ana was born in Uruguay and immigrated with her family to the U.S. at 5 years old. They moved to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1979, where Ana attended Wilder Elementary. There, she felt completely out of place. Unable to speak or read a word of English, she fell behind… until a special educator turned her life around. Ana’s teacher started coming to school one hour early every morning to teach the little girl English!
“That was life-changing,” Ana said. “To this day, I don’t know how far behind I would have been if no one had done that.”
Thanks to those tutoring sessions, Ana’s schoolwork improved tremendously. She even entered the gifted and talented program in fourth grade! Later on, she graduated from Harvard Law School and earned her master’s degree in international public policy from Johns Hopkins University. Now, she’s paying it forward through her pro bono work, helping refugees obtain asylum in the U.S.
Throughout the years, Ana hoped to thank her teacher for going above and beyond to help her thrive. But without a name, she had no idea where to start — until a friend put her in touch with Jason Glass, the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education.
He read an email from Ana describing her situation and teacher and knew almost immediately that she was talking about Pat Harkleroad, who retired in 2005. While the 77-year-old met countless students in over 30 years as an educator, she knew exactly who Ana was!
In November, after testing negative for COVID-19, Ana flew to Kentucky, where the masked-up pair shared their first hug in 40 years!
Together, the two of them reminisced on the past and filled each other in on their experiences over the decades. Pat shed more than a few tears when she heard about the impact she made on Ana’s life.
“I did it because I loved Ana, and I did everything I could with all of my kids to get them to do as much as they were capable of doing,” Pat said. “All I knew was that I had this little girl that needed lots and lots of help, and I wanted to do as much as I could.”
Even so, Ana will never forget what Pat did for her! She couldn’t think of a better way to convey her gratitude than by reading aloud the email that brought them back together.
“When I started elementary school, I couldn’t speak a word of English. I recall that my first-grade teacher at Wilder Elementary School in Louisville came to school early regularly, on her own time, to help me get caught up on learning to speak, read, and write English,” Ana read before turning to Pat.
I would very much love to say thank you, and that my life very likely wouldn’t have been possible without you.
What an incredible bond these two share! We’re so glad Pat went out of her way to give Ana the tools she needed to succeed!
See their emotional reunion in the video below, and share this story to celebrate our amazing teachers!
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