Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and Lee Ann Raikes' seventh-grade students at Marseilles Elementary School proved that on Friday.
For the last 13 years, Raikes has had her students pick someone in their lives who exemplifies the qualities of a hero and do a class presentation on it.
On Friday, students and their heroes and heroines came together for a Hero's Tea, so the students could tell their heroes how important they are to them.
A lot of tissue was passed around, as there weren't many dry eyes in the classroom.
"This is one of the best times of my year," Raikes said to her sixth hour gathering. "Like I tell them from the beginning, they do not get it until this day. Middle school kids idolize sports stars and actors. That's OK, but they need to realize they have heroes in their lives who love them and hold them accountable."
As part of the project, students create a book with quotations about heroes, stories and a tribute to the military. Their final piece is an essay, Google slide show or movie featuring their heroes.
One student honored a family friend named Judy.
"Doing this project I learned more about my hero," Eva M. said in front of the class. "I chose my hero, because she is always there for me and my family. My hero is Judy. I don't know what I would do without you, Judy. You are brave, courageous and wholehearted. Judy, you have impacted my life in many ways. I hope to grow up and have the qualities you have."
Many of the students honored their parents. Taylor C. spoke about her father.
"My hero is kind, funny, dorky and practical," she said. "I chose my dad as my hero, because he helps me through everyday struggles. He's always there for me. He also brings a lot of fun to the table. He puts others before himself in many situations. He has taught me to treat others the way I want to be treated."
Niko S. said people often consider heroes brave and strong, but he values kindness and gentleness more and found that combination in his parents.
"They've impacted my life, because I can be a lot to handle sometimes and they fought through it," he said.
Several students even honored their siblings.
Raistlin W. chose his brother Logan as his hero.
"He's always there for me," Raistlin said "He impacted my life as soon as he was born. He taught me to care."
Andrew F. credited his older sister Amanda with saving his life from drowning twice when he was younger.
"She is kind and loving and goes out of her way to help me," he said. "She has never let me down when I'm sad. Amanda will never let me down. Thank you, Amanda. I can't repay you for any of the things you have done for me."
Raikes said the annual project stays on her students' minds for a long time.
"Our world needs more of this," she said. "With middle school students it's hard for them to reflect on this in their lives. This is a memory that both parties will remember. I have students from years ago who come back and say this is one thing they have never forgotten."