To Nicole Garrio, so much of succeeding in school, and in life, is about attitude. As her students settled into their seats on the first day back from winter break, the sign on Garrio's 8th classroom wall said it all. "Attitudes are contagious. Is your worth catching?"
It's a lesson she drives home each day. Although these days she's driving it home from a wheelchair.
"I didn't believe it at first," said student Shane Riley. "I was really, really worried," added 8th grader Kie Ito.
In November, an explosion and fire destroyed Garrio's Bellevue apartment and nine others. With fire engulfing her home she had to decide whether to wait for help or jump from her third floor window. When faced with that life or death decision she asked herself what she would tell her students. It's that same simple lesson she has been teaching all along.
"I always tell them nothing can stop you. To always be positive. It's what we always talk about," said Garrio.
Garrio jumped. The decision almost certainly saved her life, but she suffered a shattered leg, broken ankle, broken arm and she lost everything she owed except for her pet cat. Monday was the first time Garrio had seen her students since the explosion, and being back on the job in her classroom proved to be the best medicine.
"It's Christmas for me because my students are a gift, and they always have been," she said.
When the community at Bellevue's Big Picture School heard about the explosion they raised $2700 in cash and nearly an entire apartment full of furnishings.
Garrio, a first year teacher at the school, was overwhelmed.
"To think that they care so much means so much to me," she said.
Meantime, while their teacher was recuperating, the kids took it upon themselves to buy her some special gifts of their own, which they presented to Garrio Monday. They collected cash and bought Nordstrom cards, earrings, a scarf, a plant for her desk and a case of her favorite drink, Diet Pepsi.
"She has inspired us in a lot of ways and with everything she's done for us we just wanted to repay that," said student Abby Peterson. "I'm honored to be in her class," added Anjini Azhar.
It's gratitude expressed for the attitude Garrio has instilled in her students, as they prepare for whatever life has in store for them. "They have hearts of gold," she said.
The Bellevue Police Department continues investigating the cause of the fire.