Editors Note: This story originally ran in the Owatonna, Minnesota People’s Press and is reprinted with permission from that newspaper. The story is about a teacher named Jess Hawkins (Jess graduated with the GCHS Class of 1995), who is the daughter of Glenwood City residents, Cheryl and Larry Standaert.
By ANNIE HARMAN
OWATONNA – About seven years ago, Fifth Grade Teacher Jess Hawkins came face to face with Washington Elementary School’s resident “bad girl” – a girl who resisted authority, got in trouble and did what she wanted when she wanted.
And the girl completely stole Hawkins’ heart.
“She just captured my heart,” Hawkins said, regarding the little girl known as Sky who sat in her classroom in 2011. Because Hawkins has her students in their last year at Washington, she seldom has the opportunity to keep up with them at the end of the school year. So when Sky set off for middle school the next year, Hawkins wasn’t sure how the future would unfold for the young girl.
“I remember telling her on the last day of school, ‘Don’t be the Sky everyone thinks you are. Be the Sky I know you are,’” Hawkins added. “I don’t know. There was just something special about her.”
With the transition into middle school already proving difficult for Sky, things only got harder when her mother was incarcerated and Sky was transferred to the Faribault School District in seventh grade.
While it was clearly one of her lowest lows, it opened the doors to reconnect with a woman who wanted nothing more than to be a part of her life.
The guidance counselor who enrolled Sky into Faribault Middle School just happened to be Hawkins’ husband. When he told his wife that this young girl recognized her photo, Hawkins’ immediately asked if Sky would be interested in reconnecting.
Through Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Southern Minnesota, Hawkins became a part of the world of the little girl who had ensnared her heart and affection all those years prior. It wasn’t always an easy ride, as Sky’s turbulent life continued for the first couple years. As she bounced from towns and homes and almost never had a reliable phone, Hawkins could feel her heart ache for Sky as she continually wondered if she was doing OK.
“Facebook was our saving grace,” she said, stating that the private messages were their only consistent form of communication throughout the roughest times. “I really didn’t know if I’d ever see her again.”
Whether it was luck, having Hawkins permanently in her corner, or Sky’s own will and determination to never give up, she has continued to persevere by getting a job, her driver’s license, and is on track to become the first person in her family to graduate from high school.
“She has found her voice,” Hawkins said with pride as she looked her photo of the two of them at the Federated Challenge last year, where Sky was invited to tell her story. “There’s just something really special about her. She’s just so determined and resilient.”
While she insists that Sky is the one who makes it all happen, Hawkins has been named the 2018 Big Sister of the Year for both BBBS of Southern Minnesota and the State of Minnesota.
“I don’t feel I’m doing anything extraordinary,” Hawkins laughed regarding the honor. “It’s hard to put it into words. The power of mentorship is so impactful. I just hope I can inspire others to think they can make a difference, too.”
Hawkins may be humble about the title, but said Sky is extremely excited to see her Big get an award she deserves. As Sky told BBBS, Hawkins is the one that allowed her to feel the “love of a mom.”