“Good morning everyone,” Pat Everly sang to her first-grade class after they had settled into their seats.
“Good morning Miss Everly,” the students replied, almost but not quite in unison.
“Before we get started with today’s lesson, I want everyone to visit our art gallery, which now includes the family portraits that you all drew last week.”
Excitement filled the room, accompanied by oohs and ahs as the students stretched their necks to peer over at the wall on the west side of the classroom that Miss Everly had labeled, “The Art Gallery.”
Each week, Miss Everly proudly posted the artwork of her students in the art gallery. This week’s attractions were family portraits that the students had been instructed to draw.
“I am very pleased with the work that each of you put into your portraits. You all did a wonderful job. Some of you earned gold stars for your portraits, but everyone did well. Now I want all of you to get into a single-file line and go to the art gallery to view your work and that of your classmates.”
After the students had formed a single-file line, they took turns surveying the wall and the portraits that had been drawn. There were comments such as “Good Job!” and “Excellent” written on each portrait.
“Yeah, I got a gold star!” Brittany shouted when she located her portrait, which consisted of her mother, father, and nine siblings.
“Man, I didn’t get a star!” Paul said, poking his lips out in disappointment.
“Paul, you did a very good job,” Miss Everly said, to him. “But I know there are more members of your family than just you, your pet turtle Bob and your cat, Fat Sam. I’ve met your parents and they are lovely people.”
Paul’s classmates snickered as he blushed. “Yes ma’am,” he said, quickly heading back to his seat.
Christopher quietly scanned the wall for the portrait he had drawn of him with his parents. In the portrait, he sat side-by-side with his father. His mother’s smiling face was at the top of the page, smiling down on them, with a halo at the top and an angel’s wing on each side of her body. Beside her body was a giant gold star, and underneath the star Miss Everly had written, “This is beautiful.”
Miss Everly watched for Christopher’s reaction as he located his portrait. Unexpectedly, he began to bawl.
“Why is he crying?” some students asked as she swiftly made her way over to him.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” Miss Everly asked, kneeling down to meet the young boy’s teary brown eyes with her own.
“I don’t want a gold star!” Christopher sobbed loudly. He ran to his desk, plopped down in his chair and buried his head between his arms.
Confused, Miss Everly thought quickly about what to do. She turned to the other children in her class and calmly instructed, “If you are done looking at the art gallery, return to your desks and pull out the assignment you began working on yesterday in your teams. You have ten minutes to finish.”
“Christopher,” she whispered to the distraught child, sensitive to the fact that his mother has just passed away eight months ago. “Can we talk? I know you are sad and I want to help if I can. Come with me to my desk.”
Slowly, Christopher sat up, rubbing the tears from his eyes and his runny nose with both hands. He nodded and followed Miss Everly to the teacher’s desk. By that time, the two of them had become practically invisible to the students who worked in their teams on an in-class assignment.
“Christopher,” Miss Everly said, gently patting the boy on the shoulder “Why did you cry when you found your portrait? Are you missing your mother?”
“Sometimes I miss my Mom,” Christopher said, his head pointing toward his feet. “But I don’t cry anymore when I miss her.”
“Then why were you crying? I don’t understand.” Miss Everly stated.
“It’s the star,” Christopher attempted to explain. He lifted his head and looked into his teacher’s eyes, hoping she would reach some level of understanding or just accept his discontent and move on.
“Chris, the gold star means you did a wonderful job. You know that.”
“My Dad and I look at the stars through his telescope all the time. Mom used to look at them with us before she died, and she would tell us about them,” Christopher said.
Desperately trying to recall what she learned about stars in her astronomy class in college, Miss Everly wrinkled her forehead and pressed her lips together.
“Blue stars are the biggest stars,” Christopher said to his perplexed teacher. “They shine brightly but they don’t live as long as the other stars.”
“Okay, but sweetheart, I gave you a gold star, not a blue star,” Miss Everly said defensively.
“Gold stars are medium-sized stars,” Christopher continued. “The sun is a gold star. Gold stars shine and live billions of years, but eventually they die too.”
Growing impatient with the science lesson Christopher was giving her, Miss Everly interjected. “What is your point, Christopher? That means a gold star is good.”
“There is another type of star,” Christopher said. “My Mom told me that it’s the best kind of star there is. It’s a red star.”
“What’s special about red stars, Chris?” Miss Everly inquired.
“They are very small compared to the other stars. People may not see them or talk about them, but they are there in the sky. And they live the longest out of all the stars, even though they don’t shine as much”
“My Mom used to say that she wanted me to be like a red star,” Christopher continued. “She told me to do my best in everything, but not to worry about being the biggest and brightest, because I have my whole life to shine.”
A tear fell from Miss Everly’s eye as she took Christopher’s hand in hers. “Thank you Christopher,” she said softly. “You just taught me something I never knew.”
A smile spread across Christopher’s face as he hugged his teacher, glad she finally got the lesson. He ran back to his desk to join his teammates on finishing their project as Miss Everly silently looked out of the window and thought about the depth of the words her first-grade student had shared with her.
The next morning, Miss Everly greeted her students in the traditional fashion.
“Good morning class,” she sang.
“Good morning Miss Everly,” they replied, still not quite in unison but close.
“I have made a small change to the art gallery, and I want everyone to take a look. Now get into a single-file line, like you did yesterday.”
As they walked in single file to the gallery, the students all noticed that they had red stars on their family portraits – even the students who had previously been given gold stars.
“Ooh – I have a star!” Paul said as he danced in a circle.
“I have a red star now. Red is my favorite color!” Brittany beamed.
When it was Christopher’s turn to look at his portrait, he spotted the red star and smiled.
“I learned yesterday that a red star is the best star there is,” Miss Everly explained to the class while her eyes continued to focus on Christopher. “Red stars are small, like you, but they are the most special of all the stars.”
Christopher turned and looked at his teacher.
Miss Everly winked at him. And he winked back.