LEON — Students at Leon Elementary recently used the power of their imaginations to preserve and honor a special place, and person, at their school.
For 15 years, “Ms. Gail’s Closet” has existed at Leon Elementary. Much like the wardrobe in a notable C.S. Lewis book, one never knows what “Ms. Gail’s Closet” contains but one can be sure, it’s something worthwhile - much like a child’s imagination.
In reality, “Ms. Gail’s Closet” was originally started by Leon’s Parent Coordinator Gail Stewart and her friend Debbie Sayre. Ms. Gail (as she’s known to students) said the women recognized a need for the closet in a rural area that doesn’t always have the advantages of schools in larger towns.
Ms. Gail, along with school volunteers and church groups, help keep the closet stocked with clothes, jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, undergarments, food, backpacks, etc.
“Anytime students need something, they come over to the closet,” Ms. Gail said.
The closest, and its purpose, was not lost on teacher Blair Bumgarner who used it as the subject of a book of stories and illustrations created by the school’s fifth grade class. The assignment required the students to each write a fantasy story about what lived inside the closet no matter how outrageous. Each of these stories was included in the hardback book, “What’s In Ms. Gail’s Closet?”
These fantasy stories about what’s in “Ms. Gail’s Closet” were based on one very real reality - Ms. Gail herself. Bumgarner said the book was a tribute to Ms. Gail because of her dedication to the students and school.
Recently, Bumgarner and her students presented Ms. Gail, who has been feeling under the weather, with her own copy of the book as a surprise. Ms. Gail said she was caught off guard by the unique gift and couldn’t help but cry, though she said it was definitely a “happy cry.”
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Ms. Gail said, praising the students and their imaginations which put tigers and a circus living in her closet, at least in the book.
“When the students presented the book to me I tried not to cry, but I did,” Ms. Gail said. “You see because of my disease I didn’t feel like going to school that day. But I felt like I had to. I hadnt seen my babies in over a week and I knew they would be looking for me. So I went to see them. It was the best day of my life in a very long time. I cannot express how much the book means to me and how much I love it. I love each and everyone of my babies at Leon Elementary School.”
Ms. Gail said one of her favorite parts of the book is a story which has the student asking “Ms. Gail, do you know what’s in your closet?” In the book, the fantasy Ms. Gail, just looks at the student and smiles without giving away her secrets.
The real Ms. Gail knows exactly what is in her closet but what her students know most is the fact it’s there and consistency is everything to a child, and at Leon, that consistency is represented in a small closet in the Title 1 room run by a lady who makes sure they have what they need.
In addition to Ms. Gail getting her own personal copy from the professional publisher, so did each student author featured in “What’s In Ms. Gail’s Closet?”
Donations are always welcome at “Ms. Gail’s Closet” which could use coats, gloves and scarves for the children. In addition, nonperishable food items are welcome because each Friday, students who are in need, are sent home a bag of groceries for their families.
“Everyone has been in Ms. Gail’s closet at one time needing something,” Ms. Gail said, “and the answer is always ‘yes.’”
Call Leon Elementary at 304-458-1710 if you would like to contribute to “Ms. Gail’s Closet.”