MADISON — As the students at Madison Elementary School hopped off their buses, they were greeted by a familiar face for their first day of school on Wednesday morning.

Mrs. Helen Peavey, a special education paraprofessional, was waiting at the entrance with open arms to welcome each of the pupils by name, just as she has for the last 18 years.

What began as a temporary transitional aid for the students has become a daily ritual. Peavey is now known by students, teachers and parents as the unofficial greeter of Madison Elementary.

“Back in January of 2001 the school moved buildings,” Peavey said. “So I was asked by the principal at the time to stand outside and greet the kids just to help them feel familiar with the new building. It was only supposed to be for two weeks, but I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Peavey, who is originally from Clinton, is entering her 27th year at Madison Elementary, but her passion for working with kids came long before that.

“I used to work with people who were mentally disabled. I had my own day care and I taught Sunday school,” Peavey said. “But I started teaching when someone from the community actually suggested that I try substituting. Within the first year or so, I had three long-term subbing positions, and then the position here at Madison came up and I had the privilege of getting it.”

Since then, Peavey has been leaving her mark on the Madison Elementary community.

Helen Peavey stands among a bevy of new students on the first day of school at Madison Elementary School on Wednesday. Peavey, a special ed paraprofessional, greets students arriving to school every day. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“Everyday she stands outside the school to greet the kids coming in. … The weather does not matter. … She is there,” Scott L. King, of Madison, wrote in a Facebook note. “Any student that has gone to Madison during her time here will have fond memories of her. She is cherished by so many. Kids run to her and give hugs as well as receive them. I totally agree with her philosophy. Seeing them all entering is a perfect time to recognize the need to help them up when feeling down. They could have had a bad night or morning. I wish all schools had a ‘Mrs. Helen Peavey.’ … To be honest most kids are scared to leave Madison Elementary because Helen Peavey will not be there. Kids really feel welcomed to be at school by being greeted.”

Principal Scott Mitchell sang similar praises of Peavey.

“Greeting the kids isn’t even part of her job description. She just takes it upon herself to do so,” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s raining. She’s out there. It really brightens the day. She’s great.”

Mary Meader has known Peavey since her now 19-year-old son was in kindergarten. She loves the impact Peavey has made.

“She’s always out here even if it’s raining or snowing. She has her umbrella and she’ll run out to greet the kids,” Meader said. “She was one of my son’s favorites. She’s amazing. I love her. She always has a smile on her face, and she makes each and every kid feel welcome and special.”

Even though many in the community see Peavey as an educator who goes above and beyond, she believes it’s just part of what she’s meant to do.

Helen Peavey offers a hug to Kaleb Moore on the first day of school at Madison Elementary School on Wednesday. Peavey, a special ed paraprofessional, greets students arriving to school every day. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“Who wouldn’t want to do this?” Peavey said. “I do what I need to do. This school is such a warm environment, and we want to invite people in. This is the start of their day. It begins at the door. We’re supposed to make these kids feel loved. These parents are giving us their precious gems. We need to show them that they’re in a safe and nurturing environment, as they’re supposed to be.”

Peavey said that she can relate to a lot of her students because during her own childhood, she was the kind of kid who was always anxious about coming to school.

“I was the kid who always had a stomach ache. I had no self-confidence,” Peavey said. “So the kids that are so quiet like I was, I wanted to change that. I wanted to provide nurturing, and I wanted to be the person kids could come to when they had a problem.”

But it’s not only the kids that Peavey feels a strong connection to.

“We’re not just here for the kids. We’re here for each other too,” Peavey said. “I love these people … Watching my fellow co-workers pour themselves into their work, it’s amazing. I tell my co-workers I love them, and I tell them positive things about themselves. And I do it in front of the kids so they can see adults being affectionate toward one another. That’s really important. And I don’t want you to think that I’m the most important staff member here. It’s all of us working together.”

Though Peavey’s career as an educator has no end in sight, there is one thing she said that could make her throw in the towel.

“If I wasn’t allowed to hug the kids anymore, I think that would be it,” Peavey said.


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