In the U.S. some 3.5 million students graduate from high school every year. Indeed, according to the most recent official figures, 83 percent of teens will finish their school studies and achieve their diploma. And encouragingly, in the five years from 2009 to 2014, the number of American teenagers that graduated increased every year.
What’s more, graduating from high school marks a huge milestone in every teenager’s life. It’s a time when students take another step towards adulthood and, for many, it marks the point at which they leave education for good. And that’s exactly why one school principal, Jean Reynolds, wanted to make sure that her students had an extra special graduation day.
Reynolds is the principal at John F. Miller Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada. But this isn’t just any old school. Here, Reynolds and her staff provide specialized education for students who have severe impairments and disabilities. You see, many of her pupils are confined to wheelchairs and are unable to speak.
But this in no way colors how Reynolds sees her charges. “They’re absolutely the most wonderful students that you can find,” she told Fox 5 News. Heartbreakingly, though, as a result of their health problems many of the children at John F. Miller don’t live to see their graduation day. And that’s why Reynolds wanted to make sure that all the school’s graduates knew how proud everyone was of them.
However, that’s easier said than done. You see, the money needed to educate each of the school’s approximately 130 students can be eye-wateringly high. The vast majority of pupils have seizure disorders and some are even on hospice care. Costs per head can exceed $50,000 per annum. So, a large part of the school’s budget is swallowed up by medical expenses – including covering the wages of 13 permanent nurses, who from the beginning of the most recent school year to April 2017, had carried out over 20,000 medical procedures.
As a result, faculty members often go the extra mile by making donations and offering financial support in order to help the pupils and their families. It goes without saying that there is often very little left over for graduation celebrations. Moreover, Reynolds doesn’t like to ask parents for more money. “We know they’re paying for so many other things,” she explained to Fox 5.
And that’s where the Fox 5 Surprise Squad came in. The Surprise Squad, which launched back in December 16, 2013, aims to provide the residents of Las Vegas with a little ray of sunshine every now and again. In the past, this has included paying for people’s gas and giving struggling mothers a hand. The team has even helped stuff turkeys!
But in the summer of 2017, the crew was intent on helping the students at John F. Miller Elementary School. And so, with Fox 5 News anchor Monica Jackson at the helm, the team went to meet Reynolds to unveil their plans. Unsurprisingly, the school principal quickly came on board and handed the Squad the keys to the school gym.
And so, when classes had finished and school was done for the day, the Fox 5 team took over John F. Miller. But they didn’t have long to complete what they had in mind. In fact, they only had seven hours. However, they needn’t have worried, as many members of the community chipped in to help.
The entire process was captured in a video posted to Fox 5 Las Vegas’ YouTube channel. There, the channel’s 106,000 subscribers could follow the school’s makeover journey, too! And it’s hard to imagine that viewers would be disappointed with the Surprise Squad’s efforts.
That’s because the transformation was unbelievable. Indeed, when the Fox 5 crew revealed their efforts to the John F. Miller class of 2017 the next day, the gym was scarcely recognizable. Decorations and bunting now adorned the walls, along with photographs commemorating the grads.
The gym itself was filled with chairs and tables – each thoughtfully decorated with flowers and ornaments. At the very front of the room, balloons framed a stage which featured large lights that spelled out the year of the students’ graduation. All in all, it looked amazing. But the surprises didn’t stop there.
Generously, along with the help of local businesses, the Squad had been able to provide refreshments for everyone at the ceremony. And, perhaps most importantly, a DJ was on hand to get the party going. As if that weren’t enough, the famous theatrical company Cirque du Soleil had even got in on the action.
And as well as performing, the entertainers even promised every student at the graduation two tickets to the Cirque du Soleil show on the Las Vegas strip. So, the day was shaping out to be a pretty memorable one. And for some of those present, like Sandy Fink, this proved all too overwhelming.
Fink is a special program teacher assistant, and she has worked at the school for the last 18 years. And when she saw the transformed gym, she broke down. Covering her face with her hands, the long-serving staff member tried to find the words to express her gratitude to the Surprise Squad.
Choking back tears, the teaching assistant made a heartbreaking revelation. “I have worked here for 18 years,” she told Fox 5, “and nobody thinks about our kids. This is so beautiful, thank you.” And she wasn’t the only one overcome with emotion. Throughout Fox 5’s video, countless people can be seen on the verge of tears – showing just how much this event meant to the students and staff at the school.
And it seemed to mean a lot to some local businesses, too. Keen to keep the giving theme going, a handful of firms wanted to help ensure that future graduates could have a similar experience to the class of 2017. And so, one at a time, America First Credit Union, Albertsons and Vons, and United Nissan stepped forward to donate a total of $35,000.
What’s more, United Nissan even offered to become the school’s local partner. That way, they could offer the school financial support and funding – something John F. Miller was desperately in need of. Needless to say, school principal Reynolds seemed overjoyed at the news.
All in all, the day turned out pretty well and was one that more than lived up to Reynolds’ philosophy. “It sounds simplistic,” she said, “but a school to me should be the happiest place it can be.” And thanks to the Surprise Squad’s monumental efforts, for one day at least that much was true. And we’re sure that the John F. Miller graduates of 2017 would agree.
It’s not clear what the Fox 5 Surprise Squad has in store next. But whatever scheme the team has up their sleeve, it is bound to put a smile on somebody’s face – as well as warm the hearts of the crew’s 106,000 YouTube followers. One thing is for sure, though, the Squad will struggle to top this surprise.