I would like to share a little bit about my experience at RCLS, where I spent most of my childhood—from prekindergarten in 2000 until I graduated 8th grade in 2010. After RCLS, I graduated from John Marshall High School in 2014 and went on to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where I received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Biology in 2018. I currently work as a Data Manager at Mayo Clinic’s Cancer Center, and I am considering different graduate programs to further my education. Now, I am grateful to be able to share with you the educational experience of my childhood, which has shaped the foundation on which much of my life and learning has been built.
RCLS has always been more than a school to my family and me. From an early age, I was immersed in the positive, creative, and caring environment that characterizes the school. RCLS was a place where we could explore learning, explore ourselves, and explore God’s love. Multiple learning opportunities (in and out of the classroom), the kind actions of friends and teachers, and a compassionate faculty made up the learning environment of my youth, which impacts me to this day.
I most appreciate RCLS for the many opportunities I had in this special school, which offered experiences and events that I would not have had elsewhere. I have fond memories of acting in Charlotte's Web––my first school play, building bottle rockets at outdoor education, swimming with the sea turtles on the marine biology trip to the Florida Keys, participating in sports (maybe even a little outside of my talent level), and hearing that first real note coming out of my flute. Among all of these memories, my favorite come from Winona Track and Field days, even though it seems that annual competition was always the coldest, rainiest day of the spring. One year, when it was particularly cold, parents let us jump in their cars to warm up between races. I remember that when our next event was called, we bailed out of the warm cars, ran the event or ran to cheer on our friends, and then ran back to the cars to recover feeling in our fingers and toes. I think even frostbite could not have stopped our fun on those cold but memorable days.
While distinctive extracurricular opportunities such as Track and Field Day make up so many of my childhood memories, I also now recognize the classroom excellence this school provided me. Academic standards are high at RCLS, and talented teachers support students as they meet those standards and maximize their potential. Admittedly, I did not appreciate this aspect of RCLS while I was there, but once I got to high school, I quickly began to see the value of the academic foundation that was laid at my elementary school. It was when I started taking honors and AP classes at John Marshall that I realized the work ethic I had developed at RCLS enabled me to meet the high academic standards of my high school classes.
I so value all of the learning and extracurricular opportunities I had at my first school, but it is the people of RCLS that I hold most dear. These are people who faithfully cared for every aspect of my being. Throughout my childhood, I had various medical issues, which could make going to school frightening. For a time, I experienced random episodes of pain that would be so severe I would be left speechless. These issues were accompanied by anxiety about how I might be perceived. I feared not being believed by teachers and being perceived as different by everyone in the class. It turns out that the exact opposite happened. Instead of being rejected because of my medical concerns, I was embraced. I won’t forget a time in 4th grade, during one of my pain episodes, when Mrs. Wickre dropped everything and carried me all the way down the hall to the nurse’s office. Another time, I woke up from surgery in a hospital room covered with colorful heart-shaped notes. The notes carried bible verses, get-well wishes, and pictures from teachers and students across the school. I had visits from teachers and classmates during my stay. This outpouring of love and prayers showed me that I was not alone and reminded me that God will always be with me. I will forever treasure those acts of kindness, goodness bestowed on me by a learning community that was like a family.
Now, after graduating from both high school and college, I can reflect on my early learning experience and say that the support RCLS teachers offer is different from other teachers and professors that I have encountered. In fact, in my experience, the support, love, and lessons from these teachers do not end once a student moves to the next grade or even moves on from RCLS. These are teachers that care beyond the classroom. They are focused on the individual’s journey in education and on that individual’s spiritual growth. What they do every day to shape these young lives truly matters. I have seen all of the extra work these teachers do for this school in and out of classroom hours. From supporting me in my dance performances, coming to my high school graduation party, and sending congratulations on my college degree, RCLS teachers have persisted in their care and concern for me over years. To my teachers at RCLS, I say thank you. You are greatly appreciated and loved.
I am forever blessed that my parents made the choice to send me to this special school, where I was able to build such a solid foundation in education and faith. RCLS still remains a place of comfort and fond memories for me. It is a home. I made lifelong friends at RCLS in my childhood years, and I know I have teachers who continue to care. RCLS is more than a school. It is a family.
The article printed here is a version of the speech Ashton delivered at The Grace Foundation’s Blue & White Night in April 2019.
We note that Ashton’s engagement with RCLS continues yet today, as we were delighted to welcome her as one of our 1st grader’s Very Important Person for VIP Day 2019. (See the happy student with her VIP in the photo at the top of this post.) We are delighted to count this honorable young woman as part of RCLS’s family.
Save the Date! The 2020 Blue & White Night is scheduled for March 13 at the downtown Hilton. If you are an RCLS family member––or you would like to be––please join us for what is always a celebratory night of fundraising and family fun.