Blessed: Lee & FCCLA clean up their highway for the last time

Ethan Brogan photo
Glenrock Intermediate School Family Consumer Science and Health teacher Karla Lee (at right) directs students where to begin trash clean up on HWY 26 May 3. 

Ethan Brogan

Standing in a room adorned with posters advocating abstinence, anti-smoking and healthy food choices are 11 youngsters raising and lowering their hands to vote for the movie they want to watch next week. Eventually, the seventh and eighth-grade students settle on seeing the Avengers.
The kids look tired, but their spirits are full of vigor. They spent their Thursday night walking down a 2-mile stretch on HWY 26 picking up trash blown on the sides of the road.
Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) students in the Glenrock School District have scoured the highway more than 100 times in the past 27 years, picking up every bit of refuse.
The idea started with Family Consumer Science and Health teacher Karla Lee. She was actively involved in sports during her first couple years in the GSD. Lee’s first teaching job was at Glenrock Intermediate School in 1981 where she started as a family consumer science teacher. She returned to school in the 90s to earn a degree to teach health. Lee coached the intermediate school girl’s basketball and track teams, eventually coaching the freshman volleyball team. As time went on, Lee started a family with her husband, Mike.
“This is just another avenue to develop students in another way,” Lee said. 
After she had her four children, she still wanted to find a way to be more involved with the school district. Lee started the FCCLA club for seventh and eighth-grade students in the early 1990s and one of the first projects they started was to adopt the highway.
“This is just another avenue to develop students in another way,” Lee said. “It’s going to help them in college.”
Through the years, Lee has accompanied groups of students to the highway and helped gather trash left behind by motorists or blown on to the road by whipping Wyoming winds.
The students don’t mind the hard work and have become close friends because of it.
“They’re good kids. They will do it because they want to do it,” Lee said.
As the students arrive at the highway, they break into groups and begin to walk.
“I do it because it’s fun and I love to help the community out,” seventh-grader Jarrett Fife said.
Several paces in front of Fife stand eighth grader Hilda Williams, the jokester in the group. Hilda gets her kicks by making up funny pickup lines out of any bits of garbage they found.  
“It’s fun. You get to hang out with all the people you see every day,” Hilda said, recalling how they found a headlight once, and she made a joke, resulting in uproarious laughter from the other students.
Lee will break up the students into two groups to walk both sides of the highway. They fill their bags and make several stops at a school bus to deposit the garbage.
On the other side of the road from Fife and Hilda, Adelaide Williams is farther away from her group, having spotted a plastic bag, she trudged through the swampy muck to grab it.
“It’s a good time,” Adelaide said. “We have fun with Mrs. Lee.”
Adelaide joined FCCLA because her older brother, Jadon, had so much fun working for the community with Lee while he was in FCCLA.
When you talk to the students, they all share a similar sentiment: how much fun FCCLA is with Lee.
Eighth graders Emily Taper and Kayleen Harris walk together, recalling when they attended an FCCLA convention and were asked: “what is the best part about FCCLA?”
They both simultaneously answer “Mrs. Lee.”
“Mrs. Lee is the bomb,” Adelaide said, with excitement.
“She is awesome,” eighth-grader Zachary Coleman said.

As students leave the room after the final combing of trash on the highway, Lee wipes down the tables and countertops of her classroom.
“I’m putting the stuff away, and I’m going ‘yeah, this is it,’”Lee said, looking around the room she has spent 37 years teaching in.“It’s kind of surreal it just seems like the other day I just stepped in here. . . where did the time fly.”
Her eyes well up slightly when she thinks back to all the nights her and FCCLA students would come back, tired and wanting to rest.
“I just look around and think of all the wonderful students that I’ve had through here,” Lee said, remarking that she has probably taught half of Glenrock’s population.
When Lee is done teaching she plans to head to Wallace, Nebraska, and spend time with her 95-year-old mother, Rose. Rose has been alone since Lee’s father died 15 years ago.
“Loneliness is a killer,” Lee said, remarking she always tells rose “mom you’re here today though (and) that’s the blessing and I’m so glad I can be with you.”
Two of Lee’s sisters are retired and she has started planning trips with them.
She is most looking forward to relaxing this summer.
“I just want to sit down with a good book on my deck and watch the (Platte) river slowly go by,” Lee said. “
Lee admits she doesn’t feel like this is the end for her. She doesn’t think it will sink in until the fall when school starts up again.
“I’m not getting myself ready to go and getting prepared and looking at what I’m going to do with my students,” she said. “That’s when I think it will take my breath back a little bit.”

With Lee nearing the finish line of her career at GSD, she has one wish she wants to see: someone else adopt the highway she has kept clean for years.
“It tugs at my heart because it’s like I own that spot,” Lee said, remarking she has an attachment to cleaning up that section of the highway. “My club owns (it), and I’m such a big part of that I just hope that someone will say ‘you know what we will step up and do that.’”
She urges anyone, be it an organization, church group or even a family, to adopt the highway. Some of the most rewarding experiences of her career have been watching her students feel pride and respect for their community.
Lee’s group of 18 students in FCCLA were not always able to help clean the road, even if a few students could help, they would still get the job done.
“I’m pretty blessed,” Lee said. “The students that are in this club are here because they want to be and they want to do more than just be in a classroom they want to give of themselves, and they are truly doing so much for others.”
Although Lee is finished with teaching and FCCLA, her biggest hope is that a group adopts the same stretch of highway she has kept clean for 27 years.
She looks back fondly at her time in Glenrock happy, with how she has made a difference in students’ lives and how they have impacted her.
“I’ve been blessed,” she said. “Truly blessed all the way around to have all my 37 years be here.”


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