CHICAGO (CBS) — Teachers are known for going above and beyond, in and out of the classroom, but one Chicago teacher literally put one of her students on her back to make sure she could join classmates on a school trip.
For three days, while on a school camping trip in south suburban Oak Forest, Academy for Global Citizenship teacher Helma Wardenaar carried 10-year-old Maggie Vazquez on her back.
For a time, there was concern that Maggie, who has cerebral palsy, might not be able to go on the trip, because her walker and wheelchair wouldn’t work in the rugged terrain of the forest preserve where they were hiking.
Wardenaar and other school administrators even considered renting a pony to carry Maggie.
“I inquired with a friend who had a pony, but the forest preserve didn’t let us because ponies are only allowed on the horse path,” Wardenaar said.
At one point, Wardenaar wanted to bring Maggie on a horse anyway and face a fine, but later admitted, “That wouldn’t be a good example if I purposely broke the law.”
That’s when she decided do the heavy lifting and carry Maggie, using a specialized backpack that features a fold-out seat.
“I believe that everybody should have the chance to join on the field trip; and just because there is a physical challenge there, that shouldn’t matter,” Wardenaar said.
Wardenaar said she works out nearly every day, but she knew carrying a 60-pound 4th grader on her back for at least two hours a day would be a major challenge.
“You just push through, and you keep going,” she said.
One of the main members of Team Maggie is her older sister, Delilah, who said knowing she was going on the trip made Maggie deliriously happy.
“This whole camping trip, she was like, ‘We have to pack. We have to pack. We have to get everything ready so that we can go,’” Delilah said. “She was really excited, and she was very happy that she was able to go on this hike.”
When it comes to rating this school trip, for Maggie, there was no doubt.
“Like, 10,” she said.
Wardenaar came home exhausted, but inspired by the one thing that made it all worth it: seeing Maggie’s smile.
Maggie’s mother, Michelle Vazquez, raved about Wardenaar, who has known her daughter since the first grade.
“It’s been amazing, right off the bat, she met Maggie and got involved,” Vazquez said. “She has always been advocating for her. It’s not just with the camping trip that’s just one little piece. There’s a lot of things she does.”
Vazquez said Wardenar went “way above and beyond” for Maggie on the recent camping trip.
“Because of her challenges, she doesn’t get those opportunities,” she said. “To be out in nature, to experience was pretty amazing for her.”
Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, executive director at AGC, echoed Vazquez’s remarks on Ms. Helma, saying she always makes sure her students get the right support.
“She’s the epitome of relentless determination,” Ippel said. “Helma is always someone who goes the extra mile.”