From Katy to Ukraine and back: Alum becomes teacher at elementary school where she was student

"She will be the legacy for many who come back." Emily Childress' bond with her 7th grade teacher helped shape her journey.

Brittaney Wilmore Image
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
New Katy ISD teacher proving that you can always come back home
An incoming Katy ISD teacher is proving that you can always come back home, especially if life takes you as far as Ukraine.

KATY, Texas (KTRK) -- As Katy ISD's 2022-2023 school year gets underway Wednesday, one alumna is going to be the head of the class.

Instead of joining the ranks of students, Emily Childress will be leading them, returning to the exact same elementary school that she attended as a child, but to teach.

Childress will be a fifth-grade reading teacher at Cimarron Elementary, where she used to roam the halls.

And ironically, her new classroom is right across from her old one.

"That's how introducing myself to my students is a fifth-grade picture of me. So I'm pretty excited," Childress said.

And if it sounds like the story of how she got the job is a little "six degrees of separation," that's because it kind of is.

Childress went to Katy ISD's job fair in March and ran into Superintendent Dr. Ken Gregorski, who also used to be her assistant principal at Katy High School. He introduced her to Cimarron's principal, Lindsay Chase.

"And by the end of that teacher fair, I got the job," Childress said, recalling the joy she felt at returning home. "I kind of cried... just (because) it's been a dream of mine to be back in Katy."

"Ms. Chase was like, don't cry. I was like, 'But they're happy tears. They're happy tears,'" Childress said.

WATCH: Eyewitness News This Morning introduces you to Ms. Childress

Emily Childress' dream has been to teach in Katy, where she was a student. Now, seven years after her teaching stint in Kiev, calling Katy ISD home again is a reality.

Childress' calling to the classroom happened long before she even realized it, though, says Carroll Ann Adams, Childress' 7th grade Texas History teacher at West Memorial Junior High School.

"She says she knew in high school. I never remember a time that she didn't want to be a teacher," Adams told ABC13, explaining that the pair has kept in touch. Adams has even taught Childress' sister and brother, the latter of who is also in education.

"She has the heart. She has the patience. She's able to come at it from an angle of somebody who puts in the work... and she's able to help her kids learn," Adams said.

This will be Childress' fourth year teaching, but her first year at Cimarron.

But even before she landed the gig in Katy, she left home to go to Kiev from 2013 to 2015 after her pastor told her about a teaching job in the Ukrainian capital.

There at Kiev Christian Academy, she led a diverse group of students from all over the world, from South Korea to Canada and South Africa, celebrated birthdays and holidays, and racked up fond memories of Ukraine and its people.

"They're very loving. They want to show you their culture," Childress said. "I remember going to Lviv. They have the best chocolate. Oh my goodness. I can't really eat Hershey's anymore because, oh my goodness. Lviv's chocolate is amazing," Childress said, smiling.

Being in Ukraine also meant experiencing the very real fight for freedom during the Euromaidan in 2013.

At the time, protests erupted in Kyiv after the country's then-president abandoned an agreement not to move closer to joining the European Union.

While the demonstrations began peacefully, things turned violent when police snipers killed over 100 protestors, and the president fled with most of the country's military and money.

"I did have to evacuate the country for a little bit," Childress said. "That was a big hit for me because I was worried about my kids who, they're Ukrainian, they can't just up and then evacuate."

"I think it made me a stronger person coming back into the country (because) then I was like, 'OK, now I'm more confident in telling these kids, hey, everything's going to be OK.' And now I think it just made me a better person and teacher-wise too, kind of (to) connect to the kids a lot better (because) I lived through what they lived through every day in that country," she continued.

Photos in Childress' keepsake book show the lingering reminder of the revolution.

"This is the Heavenly Hundred. A hundred people died during some of the heaviest of the riots and protests. They were pretty peaceful until this time. Flowers are really big in Ukraine. The flowers are gorgeous. And so they put all these flowers to represent and just kind of celebrate the revolution and the Euromaidan. The murals are everywhere. I have multiple pictures of this just because it just even means more a lot nowadays, too," Childress said, referring to recent events in Russia's invasion of the country in February.

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Emily spent time teaching in Ukraine from 2013-2015.

The attack has caused some of Childress' friends to leave the country and teach elsewhere, though despite bombing, the school where she taught still stands.

"I have full faith in those Ukrainian people because they love their country. They will fight for their country. They will do everything in their power to make sure Ukraine stays Ukraine," Childress said.

Whether 6,000 miles away or home in Katy, Childress says she doesn't just want to fill her past teachers' shoes, she wants to lead with them.

"I'm now 33, and they still have a lasting impression on me. And I want to be that for my students," Childress said, adding that as a struggling student, Adams was that teacher for her, helping her to feel confident in all aspects of life.

"I could lean on her and ask for advice or go to her and be like, 'Hey, I'm struggling in this. What do I do?' It just means the world," Childress said.

"She will be the legacy for many who come back. And they may not remember that she was their reading teacher, but they'll remember that she loved them and was always there for them," Adams said of Emily.

And that's something that would make fifth-grade Emily proud.