By: Caitlin Alleman
Friday, February 10th was a remarkable morning for our fifth grade students at Jefferson Elementary as we welcomed back the Torrey family to our school community. Jesse Torrey, the author of ‘Smiles and Duct Tape’, and mother to Anna Torrey who attended Jefferson School, captured our students and staff as she shared her family’s journey following her son’s diagnosis of ALD and the new normal her family now lives with Jack’s special needs. Jesse spoke eloquently with a focus on kindness and her own experiences around seeing past a person’s disability as what defines them. Jesse also read an excerpt from her book, sharing her daughter’s moving and mature response to the hurtful remarks made about her brother on social media. Jesse then opened up a wonderful discussion posing to our students, “How would you respond?” With every one of our student’s emotionally charged remarks, she came back to the important message of how in order to teach kindness we have to show it. Jesse warmly opened the opportunity for questions which ranged from, “What is traveling like with Jack?” to “How do you communicate at home with him?” Jesse’s honest and simple answers helped our students learn what their new normal looked like and what the disease couldn’t take away from their family; their connectedness and love for travel. Jesse’s visit ended in the most powerful way, as she introduced her amazing Jack-O and husband who showed off the one sign that stuck as they had once explored the possibility of sign language with Jack; I love you. Our fifth graders were invited to give high fives to Jack on the way out and unanimously they each got in line eager to high five the remarkable young man they had just met. We all left the space that morning feeling moved and reminded of the gift the Torrey’s left with us that day; the importance to always live life in kindness, gratitude and acceptance.