Keller Sutherland is on her way home from school in South Carolina when she spots one of her former pupils, Cameron Simonchick, cycling along the highway. She can immediately tell that things aren’t right and that he needs someone’s help. When she pulled over to find out what’s going on, she was shocked.
Ever since Sutherland became a school teacher, her commitment to her students has gone, by her own admission, way above the duties of her job. The time she spends with children inside the classroom, in fact, the general happiness of each and every one of her pupils, is genuinely important to her. For instance, in a video posted on Facebook by Greenville County Schools in February 2019, Sutherland explained exactly what motivates her as an educator. She said, “When I see myself as a teacher, I just go far beyond the classroom. I truly care for these kids.”
Sutherland, who has two children of her own, believes that she has a real connection with the kids she teaches. Tutors do, after all, sometimes see children more than their own parents do, and so it seems only right that teachers are prepared to invest in children’s emotional as well as intellectual development.
Sutherland teaches at Ellen Woodside Elementary, located in Pelzer, South Carolina. The school’s population is made up of students from kindergarten up to fifth grade, and the institution offers plenty of tools to help equip its kids with important skills. For instance, Ellen Woodside Elementary’s facilities include an automated Media Center, which is stocked with 15,000 reading materials, and students are able to access computers in every classroom, as well as a gymnasium. There are also several outdoor play areas for the children to enjoy.
What’s more, there are signs in computer labs, and pupils are able to make use of laptops and iPads too. In addition, the school offers a number of programs in which students can get involved. These initiatives include multiple exercise classes, as well as opportunities to explore musical interests. There are literary clubs too, and other events that allow the kids to explore their creative abilities. Along with after-school child care, there are also options for additional tutoring.
What’s more, Ellen Woodside Elementary has been the recipient of multiple awards and honors, including the Palmetto Silver Award and the Exemplary Writing School Award. It has also been named as a Safe Kids School. Five of the institution’s staff members, meanwhile, are counted as national board-certified teachers.
With students, of course, at the center of Ellen Woodside’s Elementary’s vision, the school’s goal is to create a positive learning environment, and with 47 professional staff members, there are plenty of people on hand to guide the children along what can be challenging journeys. It’s worth noting too that Ellen Woodside Elementary aims not only to foster academic intelligence but also to arm its kids with essential life lessons. As it writes on its website, students should be provided with a curriculum that is founded on basic skills, is relevant, and incorporates real-life experiences as enriched with higher-order thinking and problem-solving.
However, these real-life lessons are not just important for the students; they’re there for the adults too, and there’s perhaps no one better to vouch for this than first-grade teacher Sutherland. That’s because when she was driving home from Ellen Woodside Elementary one day in February 2019, she noticed something unusual on the highway and had to put her skills to the test.
It’s fair to say that this particular day had started out pretty rough for Sutherland, as she described in a Facebook post in February. Leading up to this moment was a day that just didn’t seem to be going well. It was a day I felt I wasn’t making a difference with my students, a day I felt I was failing at everything. I simply texted a few friends and asked for a prayer. But some relief came when a meeting that she had expected to attend was canceled, and instead, she headed home early. She explained, “As I left work, I looked forward to going home and resting. And yet, a relaxing evening wasn’t on the cards for the teacher.
So, while Sutherland made the drive home from school, she decided to make a call to her husband, and as the teacher chatted away, she looked out of the window and saw a young boy. There was something alarming about the child, though, who was wildly cycling his bicycle alongside the cars on the highway. So Sutherland relayed the unusual sight to her husband over the phone. As she recalled to WSPA in February, “I just told my husband, I said, ‘There’s a small child on his bicycle riding down the road, and there’s heavy traffic. What are you doing?’”
But at first, the boy’s response was vague. First, Samanichik looked frightened, was pedaling frantically, and although the boy slowed to a stop when he saw Sutherland, he nevertheless didn’t provide much explanation for his strange behavior. All Samanichik would say, in fact, was that he was heading to his grandmother’s house.
However, something didn’t quite sit right with his former teacher. For one thing, having taught Samanichik the year prior, Sutherland had a pretty good idea of his character. The teacher told Greenville County Schools, “I knew that Samanichik followed directions. He wasn’t a child who just leaves the house riding his bike in heavy traffic.”
Understandably determined to get to the bottom of why Samanichik was cycling out on the highway alone, the teacher started questioning the student. She said, “Cameron, does your dad know you left the house?” Sutherland explained. He said, “No,” so that was my second red flag that something was going on.
It was at this point that Sutherland started to get a bit more sense out of Samanichik. You see, for the boy, the day had started out like any other. He’d gone to school in the morning as normal and had stayed there until the afternoon. But when the seven-year-old returned home, he’d noticed something gravely wrong.
After Samanichik entered his house, he’d walked through their kitchen, and there he’d found his father unconscious and lying on the floor. But Samanichik had known exactly what he needed to do. His father has a medical condition with which the young boy is familiar. “My dad has diabetes,” and he has these episodes, and whenever it happens, his brain can’t work,” Samanichik explained to WSPA.
Diabetes is a relatively common disorder that causes the body to struggle with producing insulin, which can lead to increased levels of glucose in the blood. The effects of the condition range from manageable symptoms, such as sweating and an increased appetite, to serious seizures, and in some cases, even death.
Samanichik then had known that his dad’s life could be in danger and that he needed to act quickly. So the pupil’s first instinct had been to grab his father’s cell phone and call 9-1-1 for urgent medical assistance. But the screen had been locked, and he didn’t know the passcode. So what else could the youngster do?
Thinking on his feet, Samanichik’s next instinct had been to get help, and so he had called on his neighbors. But neither of them had been around. The little boy had found himself in a situation that could easily have sent any adult into a panic, never mind a young child. But regardless, he pressed on.
The only other person Samanichik could think of to help was his grandmother, but she lives five miles away down a busy highway, which was made all the busier by commuters heading home from work. Knowing his dad was in desperate need of help, however, the young boy had left on his bicycle and started pedaling as quick as he could.
Samanichik’s bike ride to his grandma’s house had taken him onto Route 25, which at that time had been overloaded with traffic. The young child had apparently sped across four lanes of flowing cars, weaving between the vehicles, to try and get his dad the help that he so desperately needed. However, as luck would have it, Sutherland had been heading home from school along that very stretch of highway. And although she hadn’t immediately recognized Simonchik, she nevertheless realized a boy was in need of assistance.
Not only that, but instead of ignoring him, the teacher had turned around and pulled over to help. So, as Simonchik explained to his former teacher Sutherland what was happening, two more worried motorists also stopped to offer their help. The strangers contacted emergency services while the teacher tried to reassure the boy.
As it happened, the assistance that Samanichik needed came just in the nick of time. Ambulance crews and firefighters quickly responded to the place for help, and Samanichik gave them clear instructions on how to reach his house. As the boy recalled to WSPA, “The ambulance came, the firemen came. The firemen were really nice to me.”
After the first responders arrived successfully at Samanichik’s house, they administered the insulin injection that his father needed. Then they used crackers, which Sutherland happened to have brought earlier on in the day, to help stabilize the man’s blood sugar levels. Sutherland later commended Samanichik’s bravery in a February 2019 interview posted on Facebook by Greenville County Schools, saying that he had remained calm and brave throughout the ordeal.
But the teacher was nevertheless grateful that she had chanced upon the situation at just the right moment. After all, by stopping to assist Samanichik, she had provided some much-needed help during this time of need. Sutherland continued, “Samanichik felt helpless, and the only way he could get help was to ride five miles to Grandma’s house. It was perhaps more than a stroke of luck, then, that the teacher had found herself in the right place at the right time. Who knows what might have happened had she not spotted a little boy on the highway? Sutherland wrote on Facebook, ‘Even though Simonchik didn’t make it to his grandma’s, I’m incredibly grateful to have passed by him when I did. There’s no doubt that this moment was a divine intervention from God.’”
What’s more, the incident seems to have served as a poignant reminder for Sutherland. Yes, the worrying event appears to have helped Sutherland reflect on her purpose as a school teacher. She praised Simonchik’s incredible bravery in the face of such adversity too, explaining that the incident had been a two-way street since the young boy had been there for her as well.
So, she wrote on Facebook, “As I left work that day, I looked forward to going home and resting. But God had a different plan, and I’m so glad he did. He showed me teaching goes far beyond the classroom and that what we do for our students outside the classroom is way more important.”
Simonchik had done everything he possibly could to get help for his dad that day. But his first stumbling block came when he couldn’t access his father’s cell to call 9-1-1. And while it is possible to make emergency calls from some locked phones, not all devices are the same. That’s why Ellen Woodside Elementary School’s principal, Sean McCain, decided to teach the kids how to make emergency calls on different phones. So if the students ever need help, they will know how to contact emergency services with whatever device they have access to.
For Sutherland’s part, meanwhile, she seems to have been impacted a great deal by her experience with Simonchik. She wrote on Facebook, “For instance, I’m still overwhelmed by the amazing strength and determination this child had to do what he was attempting to do.”
What’s more, Simonchik’s father thankfully made a full recovery. Sutherland explained, “He’s doing great thanks to his courageous son for saving his life.””