Growing up didn’t we all have that one teacher who went above and beyond to make us feel special? The teacher that really did make an impact on your life? Well, get ready for this incredibly touching story about a teacher named Helma Wardenaar, of Chicago, Illinois, and Maggie Vazquez, a 10-year-old student of hers at The Academy for Global Citizenship.
Maggie has cerebral palsy, which affects her use of the muscles in her body. So when it came time for a class-wide overnight trip in the woods, school officials weren’t sure how Maggie would be able to participate. Neither a walker nor a wheelchair would help much during a three-day camping excursion at Camp Sullivan in Oak Forest.
Wardenaar, as well as the charter school officials, were determined to figure out a way for Maggie to go.
“It wasn’t a question of if she could go, it’s how can she go,” Wardenaar told People. “It was really too long and far and there was gonna be creeks, fallen over trees and low-hanging branches. This student is part of our community and we love her and want to do anything we can for her. We needed to find a way.”
One option included renting a pony to carry the child through the woods.
“I inquired with a friend who had a pony, but the forest preserve didn’t let us because ponies are only allowed on the horse path,” Wardenaar told CBS News, adding that she even considered going against the rules before deciding that might not set a good example.
But after learning about the Freeloader, Wardenaar knew how to solve this problem. The Freeloader is a $300 child carrier that would allow the determined teacher to carry the student on her back throughout the hike. Yes, on her back!
Helga and Maggie, you are the reason why we made The Freeloader – so more friends and families could adventure further together. Anything is possible for you. Cheering you on… https://t.co/iGDe4iepQH
— The Freeloader (@myfreeloader) June 7, 2018
“She was so happy, she was like, ‘Ms. Helma, I’m going on the trip, too! I’m going to see some butterflies!’ She was so happy when she knew she was going,” Wardenaar, who carried Maggie for about two hours each day, told People. “It was kind of heavy, but I’m strong and didn’t want to give up.”
When Wardenaar would get tired, her student would “sing songs or say positive words to me.” Now that’s encouragement!
If you were touched by this story and want to support Wardenaar’s inclusive education efforts for disabled students, check out her Go Fund Me page. The money raised will go towards the school’s special education department, as well as towards the cost of the harness and other equipment used to help students like Maggie participate in other school activities.