Loving Lee County School Guardian Graduates From College, ‘Teacher Moms’ Delighted
LEE COUNTY, Ala. (WRBL) – Tears of gratitude filled the halls on the last day of school at Wacoochee Elementary School. The school’s beloved caretaker turned special education paraprofessional had fulfilled his dream of graduating from college, which meant saying goodbye to the Wacoochee family as he pursues his dream of becoming an education teacher physical.
The inspiring story of 26-year-old Derrick Harris begins in 2017 when he graduated from Beauregard High School. Harris’s father died while in elementary school. His grandparents helped him raise him with his mother. Harris wanted to go to college, but finding a job with benefits was essential. A friend told him about a job as a babysitter at Wacoochee Elementary School. Harris was hired and immediately distinguished himself with an unstoppable work ethic and friendly demeanor.
“To know Derrick is to love Derrick,” said teacher Julie Anne Eldred.
Quickly, Harris’ dream of going to college became a shared mission, which led to a meeting with the school counselor, Tracie Lane. After this meeting, Lane assembled a group of teachers to rally behind Harris. Harris calls these dedicated educators his “school moms.”
“We sat down and traced his entire college career, and he said, ‘Why do we have to write everything down?’ and I said you must see the end is in sight. We got the teachers together and had a faculty meeting to discuss their help. I had a satchel that belonged to my sister; we lost her when she was 17, she was killed in a car accident. So I said, “I want you to have this backpack because I know you’ll use it well,” and we filled it with school supplies. I said, you’re gonna fall, and it’s okay. We’ll be there to catch you, ”Lane said.
Harris continued to work full time while attending school in the evenings. Classes were tough, but when Harris needed help, a teacher was always ready to help during their lunch or planning period.
“I love them to death for supporting me. Math has been the biggest challenge for me, with endless projects and articles. I quickly learned to stick to just one when I needed to revise an article, not 20 of them, ”Harris said.
Harris worked for six years as a guardian, and school administrators saw Harris as a natural teacher with children.
“Two years ago, we hired Derrick as a special education paraprofessional; while it supports large numbers of students in special education, it is equally important for all of our children. He is such a good nature with children, such an uplifting and giver, he is the embodiment even if you see a need fulfilling a need, ”said Director Stacie Reddish.
Reddish says just before WRBL came to school to meet Harris and interview the teachers who helped him; Harris saw that the floors needed to be cleaned. So that’s what he did. He intervenes and fills a need, without being asked.
The 2020/2021 school year has proven to be difficult for every teacher and student due to COVID-19. For Harris, his last semester of college proved even more difficult as he faced personal crisis over and over again.
“He lost his grandfather, and nine months later he lost his grandmother and then walked the stage next week to graduate,” Lane said.
Harris says it’s been a tough year. As always, he found love and support at Wacoochee Elementary School.
“My grandparents prayed for me even when I wasn’t praying for myself. I know they are watching me; my father is too. They drove me to this moment, ”said Harris.
The moment was a university degree and plans to take the physical education teaching program of AUM. This week, Wacoochee hosted a surprise graduation and farewell party for Harris. Hundreds of teary-eyed students and teachers lined the halls and hugged Harris as he walked past in his cap and blouse. Harris’ success has become their success too. Students saw first-hand how determination through adversity can lead to prosperity.
It’s a bittersweet week for Harris and his Wachoocee family. Harris’ last day was Friday. He is starting Auburn University in Montgomery next week and has accepted a position as a physical education assistant at Opelika City Schools in West Forrest.
“It will be difficult to see him go, but we’re excited that his next role is one more step towards his dream of becoming a physical education teacher,” said Reddish.
Harris and his “School Moms” are a walking example of a brightly colored notice board hanging in the hallways. The sign says, “Believe in yourself, and you will be unstoppable.”
Congratulations, Derrick Harris. You are unstoppable.