Erik Kowalski is a teacher who loves his community and his country. When he’s not working hard at Wallace Middle School, he dedicates a ton of time serving in the United States Navy Reserves. His day job as a tech ed teacher is teaching students how to use their hands to saw, measure, and build things with wood.
“They use the math they learn and some of the science they learn and when they come down here they get to apply it,” he said.
His students say he’s a cut above the rest.
“He’s a cool teacher,” said Andre Ferguson.
“It gives me pride,” said Kowalski, who students affectionately call Mr. K.
Mr. K. allowed News8 to come into his classroom and interview him and his students. He thought we were there to cover a story about “What’s Right With Our Schools“. What he didn’t know was we were in on a little secret, actually it was a big secret — that the entire school was about to surprise Mr. K. in the gym with a huge patriotic salute.
More than a thousand students were waiting in the bleachers with red, white, and blue banners wishing him well as he was about to leave home for a year to fulfill his duties with the Navy Reserves. Mr. K. is about to leave for a deployment to help build hospitals for American servicemembers in Germany and Northern Africa. Previous deployments have sent him to places like Iraq.
Our News8 cameras were in the gym when Mr. K. walked in to thunderous applause and saw 1,200 students screaming and cheering and waving their American flags.
“It’s overwhelming,” Mr. K . said. “I didn’t realize all the kids knew and they all appreciate it so much. It really is overwhelming to see all of this.”
Losing their dad for a year is overwhelming for Mr. K’s family, but, they say seeing this surprise makes their sacrifice easier.
“It made me feel happy that they appreciate him,” said Olivia, Mr. K’s daughter.
“It will stay with me a while knowing I have a community here, too, that supports what he’s doing,” his wife, Jessica said.
Mr. K’s son is so proud of his dad that he hopes to follow in his footsteps one day and join the Navy.
“I feel like he’s a geat person,” Bryant Kowalski said. “He always teaches me to do the right things all the time even when no one is looking and always put other people before myself, help them out, and to help everyone out.”
The entire school kept the surprise salute a secret. So did Mr. K’s family.
“He deserves every minute of it,” said his wife, Jessica. “He puts a lot of time in for the Navy. He puts a lot of time in for the school and he deserves a little proud moment.”