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Melting pot accepts one more

POULSBO — Breidablik students came to school on Friday clad in red, white and blue.

They adhered American flags to pencils so they could wave them around, wildly, and constructed a flag out of their handprints that hung on the wall in the gym.

They were attending and hosting a surprise citizenship party for one of their own — 39-year-old Eduardo (Mr. Eddie) Labandelo, Breidablik’s night custodian for the past five years.

The Philippines native moved to America nine years ago, and on April 29, Mr. Eddie learned he was a bona fide U.S. citizen.

But, when Mr. Eddie came to work on May 2, he had no clue that he was to be the guest of honor at his own party.

“We’ve been cheering him on behind the scenes,” said Breidablik Principal Lynn Rasmussen. “He has no idea what’s going to happen today.”

The scheming for the surprise party began a week earlier. The ideas started to flow and the brainstorming commenced. E-mails were fired back and forth on what to do for Mr. Eddie and how to do it. Within a week, their plans were planned and executed.

At approximately 3:15 p.m. on Friday Mr. Eddie was told one of the bathrooms had been ransacked with graffiti and it needed to be cleaned, pronto.

Then more than 350 students, staff and parents filed into the gym, which was electric with excitement.

“Mr. Eddie is down in the bathroom right now cleaning up a mess,” Rasmussen said to the throng of eager students. “I want everybody leaning over and when he opens those doors were going to scream, ‘surprise U.S. citizen.’”

The gym erupted in wild cheers and flying flags — a practice run.

As Mr. Eddie was diligently cleaning the bathroom, another “accident” happened. He was informed a student had just vomited one the gym floor and it also needed to be cleaned, right away.

“Remember when I raise my hands we’re going to scream,” Rasmussen said. “He’s coming.”

The students did lean over as instructed and the gym hushed.

But not for long.

As an unsuspecting Mr. Eddie passed through the doors the students erupted, flags went flying, and the applause built and echoed for several minutes.

Rasmussen said earlier in the day she hoped everybody would be crying, as she was going for tears — this was a big deal.

Her hopes came true.

As Mr. Eddie was escorted to the front of the gym where a row of fifth-grade students had formed to welcome him and present him with an American flag that had been flown over the nation’s capital, he graciously stood and wiped the corners of his eyes and blew his nose with a white tissue.

The service of several other white hankies was required for the audience.

As the party-goers’ voices rose in “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “God Bless America,” Mr. Eddie continued to dab his eyes and nose, as did the revellers.

“Thank you very much that you guys have accepted me being an American citizen,” Mr. Eddie said.

Once the applause finally died down it was time to go home. But before all the students filed out the gym doors and onto the buses a few broke loose of the line and formed a circle around Mr. Eddie, giving him hugs and drawings they’d made.

“It’s just overwhelming,” Mr. Eddie said as he accepted the students’ tokens of affection. “Everything is so overwhelming to me right now.”

The party was to congratulate Mr. Eddie, but also to show appreciation for the caring janitor.

Rasmussen said Mr. Eddie has made a lasting impact on the entire Breidablik community.

She said all the kids love and adore the kind, hardworking man who never says no.

“He’s just a kind man and the kids know when somebody is kind and genuine,” Rasmussen said. “He’s a go to kind of guy. You know if you ask him he’s going to help you out.”

She said he often engages the students so they can help out with jobs here and there. The school has a long stick with a tennis ball attached to the end that is used to get black scuff marks off the gym floor, and Mr. Eddie will let the students use the stick to help out.

“He looks for opportunities for the kids to do that and it creates school ownership for the kids,” Rasmussen said.

The day may have been a celebration, but it was also an invaluable lesson in democracy for the students.

The Breidablik community builds its foundation on and promotes four principles; respect, responsibility, relationships and rights. And all four applied to last Friday’s celebrations.

“This is how we live as a school and it fits perfectly to see democracy in action for one of our own and to learn about citizenship,” Rasmussen said.

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