Mark Robertson

Mark Robertson

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A Georgia Elementary School surprises their Ukrainian-born custodian

Photo: Phillip Hubbard

This week, Suehana Gazhenko, affectionately known as “Mrs. Lana” walked into Oak Hill Elementary at approximately 5 a.m. for what she thought would be a normal workday as the head custodian.  If she only knew the surprise that was waiting for her. The native of Ukraine was greeted by assistant principal Tara Lynn. Upon entering the school, Mrs. Lana saw a wall completely covered by pictures of sunflowers drawn by multiple students that encircled, “Growing Hope for Ukraine.” 

Then, as she walked to the front lobby of the school, Mrs. Lana saw a poster with a rainbow drawn on it that encircled “Oak Hill ❤️ Mrs. Lana” along with “Hope for Ukraine” written at the top. 

Her office door frame was also surrounded by sunflowers — the national flower of Ukraine which also symbolizes hope. Fifth grade teachers, specifically, covered their walls with sunflowers, too, along with “We love Mrs. Lana” on display.

It was one way the staff and students of Oak Hill Elementary could show their support of Mrs. Lana and her extended family that is currently in Ukraine. 

At the moment, Mrs. Lana was overcome with emotion. But, for her, it was representative of what Oak Hill Elementary School has always meant to her. But where did the idea come from?

Third grade teacher Jesse Daniel first had the idea after watching a video from a school in Missouri that did something similar for a member of their school staff. He got together with fellow third grade teacher, Jennifer McDonald, to help orchestrate a plan to surprise Mrs. Lana. 

Right after she was surprised, Mrs. Lana texted her daughter Anastasiay in Cuba and Facetimed a few relatives in Ukraine. Mrs. Lana currently has close to 30 family members in Ukraine. She stressed how she couldn’t go through something like this without the support of her coworkers and students behind her. 

“We have so many people here who support and are praying,” Mrs. Lana said. “It’s my second family here. When something happens, we try to help each other. And they mean a lot to me.”

Nice job, Oak Hill Elementary :)

Here's how one Atlanta TV station covered the story!

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