In late November of this past year, grief struck the Roosevelt High School community when teacher Mr. Russo passed away over Thanksgiving break. The sudden death of Mr. Russo affected everyone differently, but a cloud of sadness hung over everyone. The day after the news of his passing broke, ASR student Gabe Rosenbloom arranged for a guest speaker to come and speak to students. At his keynote address, Andre Norman proposed a plan of action to help our community heal and come together. He urged students to thank their teachers for all that they do and he named it The Russo Rule.
I wanted to find a way to implement this method on a larger scale than students saying a quick thanks to their teachers after class. This is when I got the idea to have english teachers ask their students to take five minutes out of their day to write a thank you letter. I told the students that we would go through the letters, give them to the teachers, and choose some to post on the Roosevelt News Blog. We offered students the option to remain anonymous or to write “do not read” on the outside of the letter which indicated not even a staff member of the Roosevelt News Paper was allowed to read it. I expected maybe 100 students to participate, but I was blown away with how many letters of gratitude I recieved. Over 1,000 letters were written to the teachers of Roosevelt, each letter touching and full of thankfulness and respect.
Every teacher in the school received at least one letter and Mr. Russo had over 50 letters of heart warming stories and touching words from students who had him as a teacher and students who only knew him as the kind sub with lollipops. We sent all the letters to his family in hope of showing them just how loved and respected he was as a pillar of the Roosevelt community.
While all the letters were wonderful and unique, we’ve chosen some of our favorites for everyone to read*. Please read them and remember to always be grateful for your teachers and all that they do for you. Below are the letters to commemorate Mr. Russo. May his legacy of kindness and love live on forever in the halls of Roosevelt.
I like to think that each time a new star is born, so is a new person. But what happens when that life is taken away? The star explodes, contracts, and goes through multiple, beautiful stages before it is truly gone. The entire process of the star dying takes billions of years. Likewise, each person born from a star will be there and remembered for billions of years. Whether it’s the way you impacted someone’s life or by passing down a tradition, that person is there. Mr. Russo, we here at Roosevelt will pass down your memory for years, as will your family, friends, and anyone you touched. Thank you for your wisdom, insight, and horrible but fantastic dad-like jokes. May the nebula you have created live on in our hearts and in our minds. Thank you for everything, for helping us discover who we are to be and who we are becoming.
“Dear Your Highness Empress Mackoff,
I am so lucky to have you as a teacher this year. You are an incredible woman and I absolutely love walking into your class everyday.
Thank you SO MUCH for being the only teacher that I’ve ever had who’s had a genuine interest in what I think, feel and do. I can’t express how much I enjoy learning in your class because of your style, and the methods you use. I love world history, and it’s mostly because of fantastic teachers like you who have shaped the way I look at the past, and the way I look at everything.
I am so grateful for you and all you do for every student you have. Although you are one of my teachers, I feel like you are also one of my friends, and I really appreciate that.
“Ms. Kenny Hall (and Mr. Wallace, wherever his is now),
Thank you for noticing me. When I first got to Roosevelt I felt completely out of place. Nobody wanted to talk to me. Everyone was friendly but no one was my friend, I was consistently depressed, as I have been for years, but language arts was what I looked forward to. Days after I started school here, Ms. Kenny Hall told me that she could tell I wasn’t fully attentive and that she knew when I was repeating anything I heard back to her when she would ask me a question, and for whatever reason, I felt like one of my teachers actually saw me and picked up on any part of me. I fell in love with Macbeth, with Maus, and with The Things THey Carried. I fell in love with creative writing even more than I already was. I could show the darker parts of me without feeling scared about it. Mr. Wallace’s feedback on my writing made me believe that I could actually do it. I felt like I was being seen by someone thanks to both of you.
I don’t know your name even though I see you every day. Every time my friends and I walk by you cleaning, we think nothing of it. As each week passed, I got used to seeing you mopping, or fixing something. I would see you early before school, and late after practice. I don’t know if you ever saw me though. I really appreciate how hard you work. You keep the school running though many don’t know it. I have learned more important things from you, even though you don’t teach, I learned to work hard, even without credibility, and I learned to be humble. You are very underappreciated.
“Dear Mr. Russo,
You will be missed, oh how you will be missed. Missed in the halls as you passed with a smile. Missed in the classroom as your wit would fill the hour. Missed in the days, the weeks, the months, the years to come. Missed in a building not meant to contain many for long. Your absence will rub like a blister in a boot, carried along the entire journey, a hollow, raw ache. One of your couches found its way into my 4th period Nolet class. It sits there in the doorway now, easing the pain. It’s a place for students to rest, take off their boots and tend to their blisters, it’s pillowy cushions a comfort. Stuffed with memories built with us, built up with a foundation of solid trust it supports, it alleviates, it comforts.
Oh how you will be missed.
You are one of the people I look up to most in life. The appreciation and pride you have in your students echos the strength of your own character, and your dedication to your work is unlike any other. I know that your wife died from cancer over a year ago, and I can only imagine how hard it would be to move on to living your life normally after that. In the beginning of my junior year, my dad was diagnosed with a pretty rare type of cancer. Knowing that you also had someone incredibly close to you suffer from cancer helped me deal with my dad’s situation and gave me a more positive outlook on the whole thing. I also greatly appreciate you writing me a letter of recommendation and encouraging me while I navigate my way through the college application process – your kind words have helped me much more than you know. Thank you for everything do and the sacrifices you make. I appreciate the heck out of you!
I don’t really have a format for this letter, I just wanted to say thank you for everything you’ve done. This is my fourth year in the program, and I could not be happier with the way things have gone. Not only has my musicianship improved immeasurable, I’m also a better person because of you.
I can still remember the first day of Freshman year. Walking in to concert band. You gave off this powerful aura that I had never seen in a teacher before. It wasn’t like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode into a fit of “whiplash”-esque rage, it as more than that. You were definitely in charge, but I also got the sense that you cared about each and everyone of us. It made me want to make you proud.
Ever since then, I’ve strived to do just that. My work ethic and my drive to improve myself have dramatically increased, and honestly have reshaped my life. My GPA has improved as I’ve moved through high school and a lot of it has to do with the ways I’ve grown for and because of you. You knew how to get the best out of me, and you did. In just trying to make you proud, I’ve grown as a human being.
Anyway, I just wanted you to know that even if I never play music again after high school (which I hope won’t happen). You have still touched my life forever. These next years will be tough without you.
Thank you for everything Mr. Brown.
*only changes made to letter were for grammatical/spelling purposes
Photographer and Organizer of Thank You letters: Lauren Hensel
Pictured in cover photo: Anna Bricknell