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December 3, 2020, 3:00 pm CST
For decades, Williams & Connolly lawyer Ana Reyes has wanted to thank the first grade teacher who made a difference in her life with a kind offer.
Reyes didn’t speak English when she started school at age 5, and she found herself falling behind in school. Her family had moved to Louisville, Kentucky, from Uruguay for her father’s job as a civil engineer. Reyes told the Washington Post she felt lost and adrift.
But her first grade teacher was determined to help. She offered to tutor Reyes in English if she arrived for school an hour early each day. Reyes agreed.
Reyes wanted to find her former teacher, but she couldn’t remember her name. Not sure how to proceed, she posted on Facebook seeking advice. A friend knew the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education.
Reyes wrote to the commissioner and gave him the name of her elementary school in Louisville.
“I often wonder whether this career would have been possible if I had not had someone spend her extra time to help me learn English and not fall behind or through the cracks,” Reyes wrote. “I would very much love to say thank you, and my life very likely wouldn’t have been possible, without you.”
Reyes is a Harvard Law School graduate who co-chairs the international disputes practice at Williams & Connolly. She handles substantial pro bono work for refugee organizations that are challenging anti-asylum regulations, according to the Washington Post.
“It wasn’t just about teaching me English, it was teaching that we should all help each other and do what we can for each other,” Reyes explained to Washington Post. “That was an important lesson, too.”
The commissioner found the teacher: Pat Harkleroad, a 77-year-old woman who spent more than three decades as an educator. Reyes flew to Louisville to meet Harkleroad in November.
Reyes and Harkleroad hugged, and Reyes expressed her thanks.
“You have no idea how good this made me feel,” Harkleroad told the Washington Post.
Harkleroad remembers Reyes’ struggle to learn English, but she also recalls other qualities in her student.
“She was very willing and eager to work, and she wanted to do anything and everything she could to learn,” Harkleroad told the Washington Post. “Her little mind was just like a sponge.”
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