Blue Jacket Captain Creates Memorable Moment

Woodland Team, Blue Jacket Captain Create Memorable Moment for Student
Posted on 05/19/2020
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blue jacket surprise collageConsidering it came from his all-time favorite sports figure, Woodland Elementary Thomas Kiefer received the compliment of a lifetime last week. “You’d be a big leader in our locker room,” said Columbus Blue Jackets Captain Nick Foligno. “I love your enthusiasm. You’re awesome,” he added, to which Thomas responded, “I think you are, too!” 

The recent virtual meeting may have topped any “normal” day Thomas has had in the classroom - ever. The fifth-grader joined the scheduled Zoom call to find a “room full” of some of his favorite people from Woodland: intervention specialist Katie Woodruff, language arts teacher Jen Greer, occupational therapist Stacey Walsh, instructional aide Sharon George and principal John Wise. Knowing full well that the call was just to discuss how to add an expert voice to his recent writing prompt, Thomas had some suspicions. “You’re hiding something,” he said with a grin. 

His skepticism was reaffirmed when the next person entered the room without any need for introductions. His reaction was nothing short of pure joy - exactly the words his team of teachers used to describe his daily demeanor around Woodland. 

“Every day he exudes pure joy,” said Woodruff, to whom Thomas attributes his deep love of the Blue Jackets. Greer piped in, explaining that seeing Thomas was at the top of the list when she asked her class what they missed most about Woodland. “He is one of the kindest kids I’ve ever taught,” she said. “He’s always encouraging his classmates and he is that leader to always say ‘you guys can do it’.”

As a form of paying it forward - but mainly to lift his spirits and create an unforgettable memory during what has been a very difficult time for so many students - the group rallied around the idea to arrange for a “face-to-face” meeting. Ironically, the meet-up had already been in the works before remote learning took off, but fit in perfectly with a recent writing prompt that challenged Thomas and his classmates to describe the characteristics of a good leader. 

In true form, like most other projects he’s completed this year, Thomas dedicated his piece to Foligno, citing his ability to “guide the team to do their best and never do less” and “giving them encouraging words, not negative” and “making good decisions.” 

During the call, Thomas wasted no time jumping into the interview questions he’d originally prepared to ask Foligno over email. Among them: 

Q: Who is your favorite Blue Jackets player and why? 

A: If I really had to choose one, I usually choose the goalie because I love hugging him so much. I like hugging them because it means we won the game.

Q: What was your favorite goal?

A: Probably when I scored the overtime winner in Game Four. That was one of the best nights ever. That was pretty exciting for everybody and I was just excited to be a part of that. (Thomas: Yes! I saw you do that on TV.)

Q: How do you encourage your teammates? 

A: I try to make them all believe in what I believe in and make them realize why I believe in it. I think if they see the passion that I live with for something, then I hope it rubs off on them in a way that they aspire to believe in the same thing. Build really good relationships and make sure they know why I’m doing something. That’s really important.

Q: What’s your favorite memory from school? 

A: You remember the teachers. I had a really cool third grader teacher. She was just so fun and made learning so much fun. 

While the underlying purpose of the meeting was academic, it also filled a critical need for building connections. 

“As a district, we talk a lot about building relationships and that’s really what we are so good at,” Greer said. “It’s about finding what matters most to different kids because it’s never exactly the same thing.” 

“You can’t always go straight to academics,” Woodruff emphasized, especially in a remote environment. “Sometimes you have to take the weight off the academics and just meet kids where they are.” 

And for Thomas, that meant facilitating a momentous connection - one that is likely to live on well beyond this one call. After all, Foligno went on the record with a big promise after Thomas asked multiple times to Zoom with the whole team. “When we win the Stanley Cup, you can come celebrate with the whole team,” he said. To that, he got an overjoyed fist pump and ear-to-ear grin.