Elementary teacher returns early letters to students as they finish high school
Becky Karisny does not consider herself special, but there are probably hundreds of current and former Mesa County residents who disagree.
For the past 19 years, Karisny has mailed a packet of personal letters and photographs to each of her former Shelledy Elementary School fourth-graders in time for their high school graduation, giving the students a chance to reflect on the past eight years and reminding them how proud Karisny is of their achievements.
Jaye LeFevre, who graduated from Fruita Monument High School earlier this week, received her packet nearly a week ago. Inside the packet was a class photo, other personal photographs taken during the school year, a letter from Karisny, an autobiography and a letter LeFevre wrote as a fourth-grader to her future self.
Dear Jaye of 2012,
Remember, you want to be a lawyer, and to do that you’ll have to work, really, really hard.
Jaye LeFevre of 2004
The 18-year-old laughed when she opened her packet.
“It was really nice to see how much I’ve changed, how much my ambitions have changed and how much my spelling has improved,” LeFevre said. “It’s really special how much she puts together for all of her students.”
The other 22 students who graduated this year from that same fourth-grade class received similar packets. Karisny mailed the final packet Monday to Brittany Means in Keokuk, Iowa.
Oh, for the record, LeFevre no longer wants to be a lawyer. She wants to be a physician’s assistant. And, for the record, Karisny had no intentions of ever being a teacher. She wanted to be a model.
However, like some of her students, Karisny’s plans changed. She attended the University of Northern Iowa and decided to become a teacher. She moved to Fruita in 1985 several years after college graduation and started to teach fourth grade at Shelledy, where she stayed until her retirement in 2006.
“Nine- and 10-year-olds are the neatest people who walk this earth,” Karisny said.
In her first year teaching in Fruita — she was Ms. Meyer for the first three years — Karisny developed the letter idea as a way for her students to think about their future, while giving her the chance to check in when it came time to send the letters back.
“My first year teaching (here), I was young and dumb, but I knew I did not want to lose touch with these kids,” Karisny said. “I wanted to find a way to stay connected.”
Karisny taught for 21 years in School District 51, averaging 26 students per year. That means she has kept nearly 550 letters through the years, not to mention the other personal items she also sends annually in her packets.
“Lots and lots of files in the basement,” Karisny said.
Her files are dwindling in size, however. Karisny only has two more graduation classes left before she’ll have no more fourth graders to mail.
She has not started working on next year’s class, but she knows the work it requires. First, she’ll need to find where every former student lives, then make calls to find out if that student will graduate. If not, Karisny will wait and send the packet when the student finishes high school.
Most of her students still live in Mesa County, so the work is not that labor intensive. In fact, some students she taught, such as recent Fruita Monument graduate Andrew Bristol, have older siblings who Karisny also taught, so the retired teacher already has access to many addresses. Bristol was waiting for his packet when it arrived more than a week ago.
“It shows that she actually cares about her students,” Bristol said. “I like it.”
The reconnections Karisny has made through the years with former students and their families has garnered her invitations to local and out-of-area high school and college graduation parties, weddings and a baby shower. She’s also been to three funerals.
Karisny tries to attend every event to which she is invited. She was a teacher, so the relationships she built always trumped test scores.
Two of her three children went on to become teachers. Jen Meyer teaches fourth grade at Shelledy and Amy Hassler teaches physical education at Rim Rock Elementary.
Karisny said her daughters have their own way of connecting with kids, which is why she does not consider herself special.
“I truly believe that all teachers have their own special ways of reaching out and touching the lives of each of the children in the classrooms,” Karisny said. “I’m not unique. This is just my story.”