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Friday, December 7, 2018

MISD Teacher Reunites with Former Student Turned Author

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A teacher at Willie E. Brown Elementary School got the opportunity to see how a simple certificate that she handed out 25 years ago helped propel a young man to chase his dreams.

Lafayette Dennis, a 2005 graduate of Summit High School, recently published his first book. He was invited back to his old Mansfield ISD elementary school to read the book to some students.

While preparing for the presentation, he found a framed certificate that was given to him by his first-grade teacher, Mrs. Fregien. He was named “Best Story Writer” in the class.

“Remembering the certificate made me realize, ‘Oh wow. This is what I’m supposed to do,’” he said. “I have a real talent for it, I have a passion for it, and I think it inspires me a lot more now than when I was in first grade.”

Dennis wanted to show the certificate to his former teacher during his visit to show how she always believed in his writing abilities, but there was one problem—Mrs. Fregien was no longer working at that school.

Lawless and Dennis were reunited on Dec. 4. 
The 32-year-old author went on a search to see where his former teacher had gone. After some conversation and email exchanges, he found her. 

Mrs. Fregien was now Mrs. Lawless, a second-grade teacher at Willie E. Brown Elementary School. 

“I reached out to the principal and assistant principal, and they told me that they’d love to have me come out and surprise her,” Dennis explained. 

Dennis, who said he was excited and nervous at the same time, was escorted by the principal to the teacher’s room. Jill Lawless didn’t know she was about to see firsthand the impact she had on a child’s life.

“He looks at me and he goes, ‘Do you remember me?’” recalled Lawless, who initially did not recognize him. “But when he said his name, I absolutely remembered the name. He was six when I met him.” 

Dennis went on to tell Lawless that he just published his first book and showed her the old certificate she gave him.

“As a teacher, you always wonder what’s happened with your kids,” said Lawless. “You try to make a difference in everyone’s life; and a lot of times, you never know if you do. So, it’s so cool that he looked for me and found me to tell me that. It’s amazing actually.”

Lawless said she hopes her story encourages other teachers to always give their best to their students because it makes a lasting impact.

“You know, I was going through a hard time back then, so it really had me thinking that even when you have your rough days, you have to keep pushing through for the kids. You never know how your words or actions could inspire them.”

Dennis’ first book, "Gresham the Dreamer," is about a boy who followed his passion instead of obtaining a traditional job. Dennis said it is loosely based on his own personal career path.