By Lisa Capobianco
Madison Howes, a third grade student at Flanders Elementary School, took part in a reading celebration with her classmates and teachers on Monday. This was one of many reading celebrations in which students share their favorite books with a reading buddy. When one of the reading teachers chose Madison to read her book aloud to the entire third grade class, a surprise walked through the doors of the gymnasium to greet her—a surprise Madison had waited almost a year for.
With her eyes lighting up and her heart racing, Madison leaped out of the reading chair and jumped into the arms of her father, Mike Howes, an army soldier returning from his fourth tour as a staff sergeant for the 411 Civil Affairs Battalion.
He was stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Africa since last November.
“I was reading, and then daddy came along,” Madison said. “I didn’t want him to leave because I love him so much.”
Sergeant Howes decided to surprise his daughter with the help of his wife Isabela and school staff members on Monday. Since Saturday, Sergeant Howes said he was hiding in a hotel room so no one would find him.
“It was something I wanted to do, and seeing this was my fourth deployment, and I don’t know if there is going to be anymore after this,” he said.
His wife Isabela said she first approached school administrators about the surprise, and they all agreed to help out. With the help of Principal Patricia Mazzarella and third grade teachers, Mike and Isabela pulled off the surprise.
“We had a sit down, and went over the details,” Isabela said. “All we had to do was show up at a certain time.”
Kim Padroff, Madison’s third grade teacher, said she felt overjoyed to see this moment for her student.
“It is unreal,” she said. “Words cannot express how excited I am for Madison and her family.”
Earlier that same day, Mike surprised his stepdaughter Jasmyne Engman at Southington High School during her civics class. Principal Martin Semmel and other staff members helped organize the surprise too.
The school invited eight veterans to the reunion, where they pretended to take part in the class’s lecture for the day. After they all lined up in front of the class, Sergeant Howes walked in, and Jasmyne nearly tackled him with a hug. Describing the moment Mike walked into her classroom as “crazy,” Jasmyne said she felt butterflies in her stomach.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Jasmyne said. “I feel this is a moment right out of a book.”
Isabela said she also felt butterflies in her stomach the whole time, especially since she did not know how her daughter would react.
“I was so excited and nervous, and a little worried she was going to get mad for all the lying and all the secrets, but mostly excited,” Isabela said. “I am so happy to see that they were finally able to reunite after such a long time.”
After the reunion, both Jasmyne and Madison received a “free pass” from school to leave early so they could spend the entire day with their father. Sergeant Howes said reuniting with his family this way made that moment extra special for him.
“It is a once in a lifetime deal—something I will never forget,” he said.