Twelve years ago, they were wide-eyed curious children in kindergarten at Resurrection Catholic Elementary School (RCES). Now, they are the Class of 2023 graduating from Resurrection Catholic High School (RCS).
In 2010-2011, about 15 young students spent their kindergarten year with teachers Eileen Panter and Patty Fox at RCES, learning basic concepts like reading, writing, math, science, and more. They also learned important social skills and how to function in a school environment.
As the school year was coming to an end, room mom Jennifer Hatfield wanted to do something special for the teachers for an end-of-the-year present. That present turned out to be a wooden bench for each of them, made by Hatfield’s husband, Matt.
But they weren’t just any benches. They were homemade and the children put their own personal touch on them. Literally — in the form of their hand prints and their names.
“We wanted to do something special for these teachers. They take our babies and get them ready to move on to first grade. We just wanted them to feel extra-special,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield knew that both teachers loved being outdoors and loved all things children, so she wanted their gifts to be something that they could cherish for years to come.
“Just a nice homemade gift with a touch of each child in the class.”
The finished benches were brought up to the school and without the teachers’ knowledge they were decorated.
“They were all very excited to help. I think they were more excited to see the teachers’ reactions.”
Assistant teacher Patty Fox was appreciative of the gift, and what went into creating it.
“They not only put the effort into building such a nice piece, but they also had the students put their hand prints and names on the bench. Priceless!” Fox said.
Her bench has been on her back porch ever since. Her nephew, Walker, was in her class at the time and the bench has always been a topic of conversation at family gatherings.
Fox feels nostalgic about the fact that these same kindergartners are now graduating high school, and is proud that RCES gave them their start.
“RCS is a special place that has always nurtured and provided the resources to succeed in life. Our teachers and staff have given them all the tools they need in reaching their goals.”
Since one of the students was her nephew, it wasn’t hard for her to keep up with what was going on with the other students. Over the years she’s watched as they’ve grown into responsible, respectful young adults.
“I’m so proud of the Class of 2023. They have always set high standards for themselves as well as great examples for their underclassmen. I wish them well as they complete their studies at RCS and move on to a bright future.”
Eileen Panter echoes Fox’s sentiment about the gift.
“When I received the bench I was so touched to see the effort that went into making it. Each handprint represented a child that I was able to help mold and shape just a little. The bench was such a thoughtful gift,” Panter said.
Panter placed her bench on her covered porch.
“Many times I have read the names and thought about the children. I remember seeing ‘The Class of 2023′ on the bench and thinking it was such a long way off and now here we are!”
This class was the last class that Panter taught before retiring after 20 years of teaching at RCES.
“I am proud of all of the students and their accomplishments. Each one holds a special place in my heart. Resurrection has been a big part of my life.”
In addition to the benches, each teacher was also given a meaningful gift — a caricature drawing of each child with their teacher drawn by the parent of another student.
It’s recently become a tradition for the RCS senior class to return to the elementary school and do a walk-through in cap and gown for all the younger students. This year as the Class of 2023 walked the halls of their former school, both Panter and Fox returned to see them off. They also brought with them their benches and one of the drawings and had a photo taken with the remaining students from their class.
Over the years, some students left and new ones arrived, the wooden benches have become aged from the elements, and the painted hand prints and childlike-written names have faded a little. The one thing that has remained constant is that the very foundation of learning taught to them by Fox and Panter has carried the Class of 2023 this far and will no doubt carry them to unknown limits in the future.
The RCS Class of 2023 graduates on May 16, 2023.