One thing was clear as Carla Clayton rode around Sorgho Elementary School on Wednesday in her pink chariot -- a shopping cart decked out in pink ribbons and tissue paper.
She will be missed.
Clayton, Sorgho's PE teacher, found out the second day of school this year that she has breast cancer. She begins chemotherapy treatments on Thursday, Oct. 17, and won't return to school until January.
So as a send-off, students lined the halls of the school decked out in pink, chanting "Mrs. Clayton, Mrs. Clayton" as their beloved gym teacher made a few victory laps, high-fiving them along the way. Clayton has been teaching at Sorgho for three years after working for more than 10 years in the city school system.
Laura Cecil, Sorgho's principal, said the staff and district have done things internally to honor Clayton before she takes a break from work in order to focus on healing, but she wanted to do something special for her that involved students.
"I just thought this would be something simple we could do, so I sent out secret emails and got the kids on board," Cecil said.
So, at the end of the school day, coworkers greeted Clayton with the specially decorated shopping cart, stuck a bright pink bow on her head and took her around to say goodbye to every student and staff member in the school. Afterward, Clayton was emotional, and said no words could truly describe the love she feels for everyone.
"I feel overwhelmed," Clayton said. "I'm very blessed. God is so good. This is unbelievable."
She thanked her students and coworkers for their show of support and asked them to continue praying for her as she begins her journey into treatment.
"I love what I do," she said. "I get to be a role model for over 460 kids every day. I'm super blessed. I hope I've taught the kids well."
Terika Kemp, a Sorgho special education teacher, said that as a breast cancer survivor she knows what Clayton is going through and hopes the experience can provide her with strength.
She said the SES family wanted to do something special for Clayton because she's not just a co-worker, she's family.
"She is one of the most caring women I know," Kemp said. "She knows every student by name. Every time they come into her room she greets them by name and shakes their hand. She's like a big mother hen."
If she could give Clayton advice, Kemp said to stay positive, to trust her wellness team and always accept support.
Amia Ford, 10, a Sorgho fifth-grader, said Clayton is an inspiration and that she is always loving and kind.
"We are celebrating her because she has to leave, and I just hope she will get better," Amia said.
Bobbie Hayse, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7315.