A 1st Grade Teacher Arrived Early Every Day To Teach English To A Student. 40 Years Later, The Student Finds Her To Thank Her

December 2, 2020

An attorney has reunited with her first grade teacher who went above and beyond to help her learn English.

teacher and attorney reunite 40 years
Ana Reyes and Pat Harkleroad / Kentucky Dept. of Education

Ana Reyes, 46, was 5 when she immigrated to the United States, and when she started school, she couldn’t speak or read English. Prior to living in America, her family resided in Montevideo, Uruguay and Barcelona, Spain.

"I recall feeling generally confused and out of place during kindergarten when I couldn’t speak any English at all," she told People.

Pat Harkleroad, Reyes' first-grade teacher at Wilder Elementary School in Louisville, noticed her struggles and arranged with Reyes' mom to have her come in each day before school for tutoring.

Harkleroad would arrive at school an hour early every morning for a one-on-one lesson with Reyes to teach her English.

"It has always been with me that a teacher came to school early every morning to help me but I did not remember her name," says Reyes. "I've thought about that countless times over the years and discussed it with many friends. I know I was incredibly lucky."

 

It wasn't until a recent encounter with a friend's daughter that Reyes decided to find and reconnect with Harkleroad.

"Being able to say thank you to someone who changed my life felt so meaningful and uplifting," says Reyes. "And realizing that Mrs. Harkleroad is just as wonderful as I remembered her was very affirming. I know I will never forget the day."

Ana Reyes and Pat Harkleroad
Credit: Kentucky Dept. of Education

Reyes asked for help on Facebook before being directed to the Kentucky Department of Education, which put her in contact with Harkleroad.

During their emotional reunion the pair caught up on the past 40 years while Reyes expressed her gratitude for her former teacher.

"I couldn’t believe it," Harkleroad said. "I was so glad that she thought enough of me to want to meet with me again and to think I had a small part in her success."

Reyes went on to graduate from Harvard Law School and now works as an attorney at Williams & Connolly, where she is the co-head of the international disputes practice group. In 2017, she was honored as the Woman Lawyer of the Year by the D.C. Women’s Bar Association.

Harkleroad, 77, was 36 when she taught Reyes and continued to work in the Wilder classrooms until 2005. She is now retired.

"What Mrs. Harkleroad did for me was extraordinary, and I am positive that she has helped thousands of other children," Reyes added. "When you help one person, you also help all the people that person goes on to help... So the help Mrs. Harkleroad gave four decades ago continues to this day and going forward."

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