Emma S. Blanton had taken early retirement from her job at the University of Kentucky Hospital, had returned to college full-time at age 49, and two years later, she was standing in the classroom where she would teach 20 first-graders.
"At that time, I was just as scared as they were," Blanton said, recalling her first venture into the profession she had always loved. "Teaching is a big, big job. It was scary and it was challenging."
Her first assignment was at The Academy at Lexington, a magnet school based on a philosophy of high expectations and achievement and positive discipline, made famous by Chicago educator Marva Collins.
During the 2000-01 school year, the academy was housed on two floors at the back of the Fayette County Schools' central offices on East Main Street, while a permanent home was being renovated on Price Road.
During that year, Blanton made a pact with the students.
"I told them, 'You are my first class, and when you finish high school, I want to be there with you and for you," she said. "I made a pact with this class expressing the importance of education while stressing that reading is power."
Those students should be graduating from high school now, so it is time for Blanton to keep her promise. But there is a problem.
Blanton, 64, doesn't know where many of them are now. She said she sees one or two on occasion, and just recently, one of those students spied her out in public.
"He said, 'Hi, Ms. Blanton,'" she said. "That is the best feeling, when a child remembers you."
That student was Kelvin Relford, a senior at Bryan Station High School and a son of Yevette Relford, a language resource teacher at Winburn Middle School.
"My son is a wonderful reader today, and she is instrumental in that," Relford said of Blanton. "She made sure they read every night. She kept parents involved.
"There was something about those kids," she said. "They just loved her. For me, I grew to love her as a teacher, a friend and mentor because now I am a teacher, too. What she put into my son helped to guide me."
Blanton taught at the academy only one year before transferring to Cardinal Valley Elementary School and then Breckinridge Elementary School, where she has taught for eight years. She is trying to contact several of the 18 students who remained in her class the entire first year. Two of the students moved out of the district.
From Kelvin, she learned that a few more are at Bryan Station, so she plans to attend that graduation and connect with them.
Blanton wants to host a reunion of the group at her church, Bethsaida Baptist Church, sometime in June.
"It kind of lets them see where they started and where they ended this journey," Relford said. She plans to attend the reception with her son.
She remembers that Blanton would stay after school sometimes with her son, who suffered with migraine headaches. Blanton would call her and say she would stay with him until Relford could get off from work.
"That was part of the nurturing and care that she gave them," Relford said.
To emphasize adjectives, Blanton asked the class to write a book in which all the students wrote their names and then supplied descriptive adjectives for each letter of their name. There also were school pictures and drawings that they created for the book, which was dedicated to the parents.
"I still have my copy," Relford said. "She said she lost hers."
So Relford made a copy of the book for Blanton, changed the cover and dedication to Blanton and added a few more blank pages that can be signed by the returning students at the reception.
Because the academy used inspirational proverbs and quotes as a teaching method, Relford added a quote from Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, to Blanton's book: "The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we can afford not to."
If Blanton can get 10 of her students to come, she would be overjoyed, she said.
"I'm going to sit down with each one individually and talk about their future," she said. "I hope all of them are planning on furthering their education, and I want them to know I will be there for them in case they need me."
She wants you to look at the attached photograph and contact her if you know where the children are. You can call her at (859) 368-0926 or (859) 552-0778, or email her at Jb62148@yahoo.com.
"These children were my beginning," Blanton said. "I want to be their beginning, as they step out as adults."