Position: Third Grade Math Teacher
School: Ward Elementary School
School District: Abilene ISD
City, State: Abilene, TX
Laurie Velasquez was nominated by McKenzie Husing, the parent of a student.
"In August 2018, my then 8-year old daughter, Ciara was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in her left leg called synovial sarcoma. She has missed all but 3 weeks of school since it started this year," said Husing. "She is in Mrs. Velasquez class, but she didn't start there. There were several reasons why I had her switch teachers. First of all, there was an incident at the school with a student in Mrs. Velasquez' class who had made a negative comment to Ciara's cousin, Harlee, who was also in third grade."
Mrs. Velasquez immediately handled the situation. She knew that the students needed to learn more about Ciara's condition to be able to better cope with this diagnosis. Mrs. Velasquez' class has "Wishful Wednesdays and Thankful Thursdays," and even though Ciara was not in her class yet, Mrs. Velasquez was using these days to help a group of fellow third grade students deal with Ciara's cancer diagnosis. The students choose what they as a class want to wish for and be thankful for. On the first Wishful Wednesday and Thankful Thursday of the year, the students chose Ciara.
"Mrs. Velasquez has had a huge impact on these students by helping and teaching them how to have compassion and love for one another. She has also taught them it's okay to have feelings and to talk about them," said Husing. "The students talk about their feelings, and they want to be there to support Ciara through her battle."
Mrs. Velasquez has not only been there for Ciara, but for this entire group of kids since day one. She organized a party with the entire third grade, and they all made cards for Ciara before she left for her big surgery. Ciara's favorite thing to do is run, so that's what students did during the party the Friday before she and her family left for Houston. They had a huge third grade race with cookies and drinks at the track. Mrs. Velasquez also had a flyer sent home to have the entire elementary school wear pink to support Ciara on this Friday. She has gone above and beyond what any other educator has done.
Fast forward a bit to now. Ciara had surgery to remove the remaining cancer on October 16th, 2018, and was in the hospital for a few days. After that, she was in Houston for almost three weeks. During her time away, Mrs. Velasquez and her class would FaceTime with Ciara. While she was at the hospital, she was having a really hard time dealing with not being able to walk (she is now in a wheelchair), and she struggled with physical therapy until her first FaceTime session with the class.
"After this visit with her friends and Mrs. Velasquez, Ciara had a fire light up inside her, and she had us ask for the therapist to come back so she could try again. That day, she was successful in getting out of bed with a walker and into her wheelchair with minimal help," said Husing. "It was the first time she put her 'Ciara Smile' on her face since surgery. Her surgery was a leg reconstructive surgery where she lost part of her leg bone due to the cancer. Being able to FaceTime with her friends while she was in Houston made a huge impact on her emotional state. When we returned to Abilene from Houston, we took Ciara to see her class for the first time since surgery and since the emotional "running party." It was an amazing and emotional moment for all of us. Her third grade class sang Fight Song by Rachel Platten to her as she entered the room.
"Mrs. Velasquez has gone ABOVE and beyond for Ciara and this entire group of third graders," said Husing. "These kids will have a bond for the rest of their lives after going through this with Ciara. She has helped them cope and learn how to deal with their feelings and emotions in a tough situation. Not everybody can do what Mrs. Velasquez does. She truly is one of a kind, and our family appreciates her more than she'll ever know! Instead of letting kids think 'Ciara's just different,' she helped them realize we all go through tough experiences in life, and when we have friends and people to talk with, it makes these experiences a little easier. Every student began to share difficult situations that they were dealing with in their lives. They all realized that everyone eventually has a hard time, and that's okay. She has helped these kids genuinely love one another, even with all the ugliness and hate going on around them at such a young age. She has even offered to help Ciara catch back up with school during the summer or even during the week for free so that Ciara isn't too far behind. Mrs. Velasquez came to visit Ciara at home during the holidays. She texts regularly to check on Ciara and our family. She is truly a LifeChanger in our community!
Below are additional links detailing Ciara's journey.
Facebook--www.facebook.com/teamCIARA or www.facebook.com/TheHusings
Fundraiser -- Www.gofundme.com/ciarascure
Ms. Velasquez and class singing to Ciara on her first day of visiting after having her big cancer surgery -- https://youtu.be/-AWwxfnxMTQ
In the News
Fox15 Abilene -- https://youtu.be/N8qqKRIFt-Y
KRBC -- https://youtu.be/dpBIxb3ERlk