Glade Hill Elementary School second grader Sydney Wray drew Sheila Motley, food service manager, demonstrating the positive impact the employee had on her life. Contributed photo. Sydney Shows The Impact
Glade Hill Elementary School second grader Sydney Wray drew Sheila Motley, food service manager, demonstrating the positive impact the employee had on her life. Contributed photo.

A second grade art project turns into a positive message.

GLADE HILL – When Miranda Banks assigned a project, she had no idea it would ripple through the community. The art teacher at Glade Hill Elementary School crafted a simple task: draw something positive. Arguably easier said than done in 2020.

“It was the very first one for kicking off the year, so I wanted to start off with a good note and get them to think positively and try not to see the world as a dismal place, and have a little hope about them and focus on the good things,” Banks said.

One student, Sydney Wray, didn’t have to look far to find something positive. The seven-and-a-half-year-old second grader knew exactly what – or rather, who – to draw.

She chose Sheila Motley, food service manager at Glade Hill.

“She was one of the lunch ladies giving us foods so we could have good foods to eat,” Wray said. “They were doing good things for the families.”

The drawing impressed Banks – not just for the colorful rendering, but also for the message it sent.

“I loved how she had a person in mind. She immediately thought of someone that she knew. It wasn’t just a lunch lady or just a nurse – she specifically focused on one person,” Banks said. “It just shows how much that person meant to her. So it was pretty cool to see that.” 

A day in the life

Every day, Motley and members of her team prepare breakfast and lunch for students, faculty and staff.

However, it’s not the same operation as it was seven months ago.

“A normal day, we would have breakfast ready when the kids got off the bus. One of us would be inside serving, one at the register and one outside serving the older kids – we would have, like, two lines. Then the kids would eat in the cafeteria here, in the dining room,” Motley said. “We would get stuff ready for lunch, cook whatever’s on menu that day. Get it ready for lunch and then the kids come at their appointed times and come through the line. We’d get to see their little smiling faces. They would eat out in the dining room. We’d clean up from there.”

A different way

Taking coronavirus precautions seriously, the cafeteria staff members do things differently. Except on Wednesdays when students aren’t in the building, cafeteria staff craft delicious, nutritious meals.

In lieu of smiling faces, students wear masks. Instead of eating with their friends, they eat at their desks. It’s the same story across Virginia, no matter which school a student attends. The system will likely remain in place until COVID-19 wanes or a vaccine emerges.

“Now, all three of us have to go down the hall with our breakfast when the kids get off the bus. So we won’t have them all bunched up, we all three go down,” Motley said. “We give them a choice. Like this morning, it was pizza or yogurt and a pop tart.”

Then, students and teachers place their lunch orders.

“It’s just like ordering Grub Hub, or whatever you call it,” Motley said. “They tell us whether they want cheese pizza, pepperoni pizza or a chicken sandwich or whatever. Then they tell us which vegetable they want from the menu. I always send out each morning which fresh fruit we have.”

The school also provides fresh meals to the virtual student population, a helpful gesture for parents and children.

“Knowing my child has healthy meal options at school, and now at home for virtual school, is an absolute blessing. Needing to stay home more limits the amount of fresh fruits and veggies we have access to. Having the healthy food at home opens the whole family up to trying new things and making better choices than we normally would,” said Kelli Tuck-Wray, Wray’s mother. “It’s easy to get busy and want to run out for unhealthy fast food, but since these options are here regularly, we are all eating better.”

Sydney Wray 1
Sydney Wray, a second grader, enjoys creating art with her older sister and caring for animals. She recently shared a positive message through a school project. Contributed photo.

A kind gesture

Throughout the pandemic, Motley and team faithfully served the students at Glade Hill. However, it never occurred to her that she had such a strong, positive impact on the individuals she fed.

When Wray drew a picture of her for the Glade Hill project, the act touched Motley.

“It just makes my heart melt. It gives me goose bumps. I mean, she’s a sweet kid,” Motley said. “[I] do feel appreciated and I do appreciate all of our parents that have been coming to get these meals, too. I do feel appreciated, but it just makes you feel good knowing that if she was asked for something good, that she chose one of us to draw her picture of.”

Taking her newfound superhero powers in stride, Motley noted she’s not alone in her venture.

“Some days, it sure does feel like we are super. I’m telling you, the way we can get things done. But there’s no way I could do it by myself. The other ladies are here to help too. We had some fantastic ladies here over the summer that were from other schools that helped,” Motley said. “Put us all together and we make a super team, that’s for sure.”

Tuck-Wray thanked all of the employees at the school for their dedication.

“We appreciate all of the sweet ladies that helped us with school food this summer,” Tuck-Wray said.

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A happy takeaway

Complete with a tie-dye mask and special piece of jewelry, Wray’s drawing touched more people than Motley alone. When Tuck-Wray shared the drawing on Facebook, it received 64 likes, 11 shares and 21 comments in a matter of days.

“I think her drawing reminded people that we are all in this together, no matter where we are,” Tuck-Wray said. “I think it is reassuring to see our children continuing to use their imaginations and enjoying the little things, even if us adults feel like things are falling apart.”

The project had an even more profound impact than Banks originally intended. However, the art teacher noted the power of creativity and positive thinking.

“I think the intent that I had for them to focus on the good, it’s what people need now. It’s what they are kind of looking for, is the good – something small that ends up being pretty extraordinary,” Banks said. “And that’s what art is. Art brings out the extraordinary in the ordinary. And it did that, so it just moved people.”

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Words of wisdom

Banks learned looking for positive things from her mother and passed the idea onto her school children.

“I talked with my mom not too long ago and she said, ‘When you look for positive, when you have that outlook, when your eyes are set on something good, it will come to you.’ That’s something we can continually do every day, is to look for the good and to find happiness. It can come to you when you have that mindset,” Banks said. “I think that she did that. She brought that goodness and that happiness in the small things and showed us that we can still do that, even in a world that’s kind of scary right now.”

This year especially, Wray encouraged others to look for positive things around them.

“So we can still feel happy, even though we can’t see our friends and family,” Wray said.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at amie@couriernewsroom.com