First graders at an Alabama elementary school are being hailed as heroes for taking quick action to help their teacher during a medical emergency.
"It was scary for me because I knew that they were going to have to see something probably that they didn’t need to," said Tracy Hodges, a first-grade teacher at Cedar Hill Elementary in Ardmore, Alabama. "But I didn’t know any other way because I couldn’t find my way out the door."
The fateful school day in January began like any other. There were fewer students in the class than normal, 12 instead of the usual 18, because several of them were at home due to Covid. The children who were at school were sitting at their desks after singing and dancing around the classroom. Hodges says she felt fine that morning but soon noticed her vision was becoming blurry.
"I couldn’t even find the door and I couldn’t make out the three children who were sitting in front of me," said Hodges.
Her students noticed she was behaving differently but weren’t sure what was happening at first because they had just finished a playful exercise.
"Mrs. Hodges was shaking and we thought she was just joking," said six-year-old Dalton Widener, who was in the classroom at the time. "Then she fell out of the chair and hit her head."
Seven-year-old Emily Johnson said that’s when the class knew something was wrong.
"She fell out of the chair and her glasses fell off and she dropped," said Johnson.
Before losing consciousness, Hodges says she remembers asking the kids to go for help but wasn’t sure if they would understand. The kids received the message loud and clear. While two remained with Hodges in the classroom to make sure she was alright, the rest split up to cover more ground in the hallways.
"Some people went and got the other teacher and then we went and got the nurse," said Widener.
The school librarian saw the children and the nurse running down the hall and guided the students away from their classroom, unsure how serious the situation was.
"I just grabbed them and didn’t have a clue what was going on, but grabbed them and kind of comforted them and just tried to keep them calm until we could figure out what was going on," said librarian Heather Snyder.
When Hodges eventually awakened, she says she was surrounded by teachers and medical personnel.
One of the first graders had also returned to inform paramedics what had happened before they arrived.
"Just having to relive that right then that day showed such bravery so we were so proud of them," said the librarian.
Once at the hospital, Hodges says doctors told her she had tested positive for Covid and had experienced a seizure in the classroom as a result of the illness. The teacher had no idea she was even sick and says she’d never had a seizure before.
She recovered after a few days and the school spoke with parents and students about the incident to make sure everyone knew the teacher was doing fine.
"I had messages from the parents," said Hodges. "The children were scared to come back to school. So I had to reassure them that I was okay."
Hodges laments that her students had to witness the emergency at such a young age, but also believes having them there helped save her life.
"I can’t imagine how they felt at seven years old, having to face that," said Hodges. "But if I was at home, I probably would have been by myself because my family was at work and at school. So I was at the right place at the right time because they took care of me."
The children say they were relieved and excited to see their teacher return to the classroom.
The class’s heroic efforts were recognized by their community, including the town’s sheriff, district attorney, police chief, and fire rescue team. All four visited the school for a special ceremony in which the first graders received certificates and medals for their actions. They’re now referred to as "Hodges’ Heroes." But they’re reluctant to embrace the limelight.
"Any students would have done it if they were here," said Widener.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Elementary students recognized as heroes for helping teacher in crisis