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Former Essex Junction student returns bearing gifts

Susan Notes:

What a remarkable way to say thank you. Surely every teacher who reads this is grinning broadly.

By Matt Ryan

ESSEX JUNCTION -- Mary-Ann Parizo remembers Kellie Cairns as a "very vivacious" fifth-grader who was also a "very sad little girl."

Parizo, 73, of Essex Junction taught reading in village schools for 30 years, retiring in 1990. She met Cairns while teaching at Thomas Fleming School in the early 1970s.

Cairns was moving to California and worried about leaving behind family and friends. She sometimes stayed after school to read. Parizo lent her books.

Cairns moved to the West Coast but never forgot her fifth-grade reading teacher. Cairns, 46, of San Pedro, Calif., called Parizo a few months ago.

"I don't know how she got my phone number," Parizo said, "but she called and explained how she never returned some books she borrowed in fifth grade, and said she felt guilty for years."

Cairns will return to her elementary school Monday to honor Parizo with 1,000 books.

While in California, Cairns founded Book Buddies, a nonprofit organization that has donated 800,000 books to students in poor schools in seven states. Thomas Fleming School, though not an underprivileged institution, holds sentimental value for Cairns.

"I still consider Vermont my home," Cairns said. "This is why the school is so important to me -- because it's my school."

Of the 1,000 books, Cairns will donate 750 to the school's library. The remaining 250 will be given to the students.

"Kellie allowed us to identify areas in our library collection where we had some gaps," principal Dan Ryan said. "The classroom teachers and librarians headed up an inquiry to find out what would be needed."

Among the donations: Biographies, books on world cultures, classics such as "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer," and a medieval castle pop-up book.

Parizo turned reading from "something you should do" into "something you can enjoy," Cairns said.

"She started me on the 'Little House on the Prairie' series," Cairns said. "She introduced biographies to me; she opened up a lot of different avenues for stuff I wouldn't have otherwise picked up as a child. She'd always say, 'Try this; give this a try.' She'd even get boys to read poetry."

Parizo served 11 years as an Essex Junction representative in the Vermont House after she retired from teaching. She used to live next door to Thomas Fleming School. Now she lives across the street.

Parizo said she was honored by Cairns' gesture.

"I feel good about it. I'm glad I helped somebody after all these years," Parizo said. "It's overwhelming to me, actually. I'm amazed at how generous she is. I can't wait to see her."

— Matt Ryan
Burlington Free PRess


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