Riverhead School District teacher Keri Stromski of Long Island, New York, is well-known for her loving approach to education.
The kindergarten teacher thinks of each student as one of her babies. Hugs are always a common event in her classroom, but this year, they have been out of the question for two big reasons.
The first reason, of course, is COVID-19. The second is that Keri is battling stage 4 breast cancer. While she receives chemotherapy and radiation to battle the disease, she is far more susceptible to the novel coronavirus than others.
She has been teaching remotely since the start of her treatment, but both she and her students miss their usual closeness in the classroom. Throughout each moment, Keri has been honest with her students’ families. She let them know recently that hugs are the thing she wants most in her isolated state.
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“That’s what she missed the most about being actually physically in school,” said Cathie Green, the mother of one of Keri’s students. “Mrs. Stromski loves our kids like they’re all her own. From day one, she told them every day that she loves them.”
“Hugs are healing,” Keri agreed. That’s why Cathie and her son, a 5-year-old named Avery, decided to find an innovative way to give Keri the physical comfort she was craving. Together, the mother and son gathered some common household supplies — including an old shower curtain, trash bags, and a clothing rack on wheels — and created a DIY “hug machine.”
When they wheeled the device up to Keri’s front yard to surprise her, the teacher was visibly moved by their thoughtfulness. She and Avery couldn’t wait to try it out!
“It was just the sweetest thing,” Keri exclaimed. As for Avery, he said, “Now she could hug everyone in the whole wide world!”
Cathie explained that their motivation to design the hug machine was simple.
“We just wanted to keep Keri safe, because she’s sick, and she kept saying she couldn’t hug her babies, so we just wanted to make something so she could have a way,” the mom added.
Keri loves the machine so much that she’s hoping to hold a “hug parade” as soon as she feels better. Each of her students, past and present, will be invited to give her a safe, plastic-covered hug, and it’s all thanks to Avery’s ingenious design.
Way to think outside the box, Avery and Cathie! Share this story to wish Keri the best of luck with her treatments.
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