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Video: River City students receive early Easter surprise with return of beloved teacher

For more than two months, River City Early College High School teacher Eric Lawson has been away from his students, fighting for his life. Thursday, he had the opportunity to hop back into their lives.

Knocked down and hospitalized by an illness that removed him from the classroom, forced him to learn how to walk again and put him on the kidney transplant lists at a number of regional medical centers, Lawson said he is ready to return to the classroom.

At a “Breakfast With The Easter Bunny” event Thursday, Lawson, dressed as the Easter Bunny, surprised the student body gathered outside for what they thought would be just an opportunity to be out of the classroom.

It wasn’t until the Easter Bunny began waving to the students that they realized who was inside the costume and the surprise ahead. A distinctive set of beads Lawson was known to wear were seen on the Easter Bunny’s wrist, giving it away.

“I was so surprised. I started crying and everything. Everybody loves Lawson,” freshman Daisy Jilbert said, still wiping tears from her face. “It was great we got to see him today. It’s very emotional for everybody because we all got very close to him throughout the year.”

Lawson said he plans to return to the classroom after the Easter break. His road to recovery has not been easy, but was helped out tremendously by Thursday’s event.

“This was very refreshing. I needed this. When you’re 48 and you need to learn to walk again, small things really matter. This was something big. I love my kids. I could not ask for anything better,” he said. “The next step is getting my balance back and I have been working through that during physical therapy. It has been challenging, but it is all worth it. Days like this make it all worth it.”

Swarmed by students who have gone through his leadership class, Lawson was all smiles as he received countless hugs, high-fives and fist-bumps.

“These kids are so special. I have been out for over two months and these kids have emailed me and sent cards and made cards, so I felt like I was a little missed,” Lawson said. “When I first got out of the hospital, we did a drive-thru at the school at the beginning of February and the kids did the same thing. I wanted to give them something to get excited for going into the Easter break. It’s really great to be back.”

Principal Tammy Smith, who worked with Lawson at Bowmar Elementary years earlier, said Lawson is more than a teacher and mentor to the students, but a go-to member of her team at RCEC.

“As an educator, he teaches the Leader In Me habits, and for me, for the school and the students, he is that go-to person that talks to them about life and good decisions, and all of those soft skills. They go to him,” Smith said. “If I need him to speak to the students about something because I have seen something come up with a few students, he is my go-to person for that. He is the link. They relax in his classroom. He makes every kid feel special.”

Smith said even though she knew of the surprise heading into Thursday’s event, she was still touched by how the students reacted.

“I just love the reaction. The students, all of us, have felt like a part of us has been missing,” Smith said. “I visited his classroom a few times since he has been out to check them and each time they would all ask for him to come back. They just missed him so much. It just makes my heart sing when I see today’s reaction.”

As he continues to go through dialysis three days each week and prepares for a procedure to add a port so he can do dialysis from home, Lawson said his life experiences — including those from the past few months — are lessons for his students.

“I am an open book and teach them things, using all my life experiences, and experiences I have seen from other people. It’s real,” Lawson said. “And they understand that if Mr. Lawson has gone through it, then yeah it has to be real.”

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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