Louisiana's teacher of the year writes letters to all her students, now they return the favor

(CBS) - CBS's series, "A More Perfect Union," aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us.

In this installment, America is introduced to Louisiana's teacher of the year, Kimberly Eckert, who teaches English at Brusly High School.

Over the course of her decade-long career, she started a unique tradition of writing personal letters to her students to ease some of their anxieties and to let them know how much they mean to her. This year alone, she wrote more than 150.

CBS caught up with a few of Mrs. Eckert's students past and present who wanted to return the favor. They had a lot to say about the impact she's had on her students.

"It's treating them with dignity; it's treating them with respect," said Eckert. "That, 'You matter. You might not have seen it yet. But I saw it. I saw it the second I locked eyes with you. You mattered before I ever met you. This experience - it's my job to help you feel just how very, very, much you matter.'"

"She saw me," said current student Lauren Walker. 'And that was something new to me."

"I just felt like there was just this arrogance that I had," said former student Alexander Spencer. "And I feel that now I'm just so much of a better person. And I can't begin to thank her enough for that."

"She was different because she always came, checked on me," said former student Miracle Foreman. "And she was - like, other teachers, they just see you in the hall and that's it."

"If there's anything that I've learned, words have a lot of power. And the way we use them and how we use them and the timing in using them is sometimes all the power that we need. It's all the power we need. And I think that, with my particular students and in their generation, the frequency that they see words - they can kinda forget the power of just the letter. They could forget the power of feedback written on a paper," Eckert added.

"I did get a letter mailed to me after school was over," said former student Jasmine Johnson. "It was just a bunch of positive things to let you know that I'm not going anywhere, we can talk anytime."

"I wrote this letter to her so that she - 'cause she always writes other students, I felt like she deserved to get one herself," Walker explained.

Dear Ms. Eckert ...

"Like many others entering high school, a big part of my freshman year was trying to find my place," said current student Gabrielle Myers.

"You showed me a side to myself that I didn't even know existed. Seeing you always be you showed me that it's okay to be different and explore new possibilities and create new things," said Walker.

"You taught me to be a more open-minded person with a kind heart who also is willing to put forth the effort to make a difference in this world," said Spencer.

"You immediately saw potential in me, and I loved that. You gave me responsibility. You made me step up, and grow up and live up to my potential," said Johnson.

"You were labeled as my teacher, but in my heart, you are a friend and a person I can always lean on," said Foreman.

"In room 104, I learned how to truly feel empathy for others. You force students to be vulnerable and uncomfortable which can be challenging initially, but was necessary to grow," added Myers.

"I feel super lucky because I had the opportunity to be taught by you," Johnson explained.

"To be able to touch a kid the way you touched me would make everything so worth it!" Eckert read.

"I can truly say that you were one of the teachers who made me better. There are certain teachers that live in your life forever and I can truly say you are one of them," said Walker.

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