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Teacher delivers letters to graduates they wrote in elementary school

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – For Howe Elementary third-grade teacher Chad Longley, shaping the lives of his students doesn’t stop just because they leave his classroom.

“I was lucky in getting into college and I want kids to realize that no matter where they come from or how their lives are that they can achieve anything with hard work, respect and building lasting relationships with people,” Longley said. “So after all that, I thought, how cool would it be to open a letter from themselves 11 years from now.”

Since he began teaching in 2005, Longley has had his students write letters to themselves that he delivers to them at their high school graduations.

“I always knew I would try to keep in touch with them because I treat my students like my own kids and care about their futures and lives,” Longley said.

Longley started with the district at Eisenhower teaching English as a Second Language or ESL.

He began teaching first grade during the 2006-07 school year.

From there he went to Howe Elementary to teach first grade in 2014.

He has been teaching third grade at Howe for the last two years.

“I’ve always taught at low-income schools and I want the kids to realize it’s not what you have, that you can do whatever you want,” Longley said. “Having people in your corner makes those roadblocks easier to get through.”

Teaching wasn’t always the path Longley thought his life would take having trouble in school himself.

But, he said the relationships he had with teachers and coaches made lasting impressions on him.

“The only things I remember about school are the relationships I had with certain teachers or coaches,” Longley said. “I’m huge on relationships and tradition and taking pride in who you are and where you come from.”

Before the students write the letters, Longley talks to them about how fast the early grades build into each other and how fast time passes.

“I want them to have those memories from the past to see what shaped them to who they’ve become,” Longley said. “Kind of like a time capsule.”

In the letters, students write about their hopes and dreams for the future, as well as their career goals and aspirations.

Over the past two years, Longley has attended graduation ceremonies at Preble High School, East High School, West High School and even Wrightstown High School.

“If their somewhat close to Green Bay, I’ll be there,” Longley said. “I’ve mailed out some (letters) for those students that moved or graduated early.”

Longley now shares the pictures and stories of the graduations he attends with his current students.

“I’ve been talking (with my current students) about what will happen when they graduate,” Longley said. “That has helped make it more concrete in their minds.”

The rest of the letters sit on his desk in a letter case awaiting graduation day.

Longley said he is hopeful that the bond he creates with his students will help make them more invested in their learning.

“I truly care about all my students futures,” Longley said. “They know I care about them and they know that I’m there for them when needed.”

Longley said that his parents instilled the importance of respect, relationships and hard work from an early age.
“I grew up without a lot of money,” Longley said. “My parents worked so hard for us. That has shaped me for wanting more for myself and understanding that we all come from struggles, but building relationships can help get you out certain struggles kids grow up with.”

Longley said that he plans to continue the tradition for years to come.

“I will always do this as long as I teach,” Longley said.

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