For most of Connor Avila’s young life, his father, Joshua, has been away serving his country with the U.S. Marines in the Middle East.
Whenever the third-grader is having a bad day, Connor goes to the "hero wall" inside his school where students post photos of relatives serving in the military and he talks to his dad's picture.
So when his teacher and principal at Fry Elementary School in Burbank learned Joshua Avila was coming home on leave from Saudi Arabia, they arranged for Connor's dad to surprise his son during a show-and-tell session on April 23.
"We still have show-and-tell in third grade. They get excited about it," Connor’s teacher, Tony Pak, said. "Connor is always talking about his dad. It’s just a therapeutic way to deal with his dad being far away in a crazy situation."
Connor had no idea his dad was standing outside in the hallway as he talked about him during show-and-tell.
Holding a black-and-white version of his father's photo hanging on the hero wall, Connor talked about Saudi Arabia ("it’s really hot") and his father’s favorite hobby ("me").
Earlier that morning, Fry principal, Mary Rein, had the morning art classes make patriotic decorations so the hallway was filled with red, white and blue stars, flags and construction paper chains when Joshua Avila arrived.
Rein said Connor’s teacher had prepared to have Joshua speak to the students about being in the service, but the lesson plan quickly went by the wayside.
"Everybody was crying," the principal said. "The kids were so moved they were crying. Once Connor and his father hugged, nobody else was in the room."
She describes Connor as an interesting boy, who knows facts unknown to most people, about his dad’s uniform, Saudi Arabia and the animal kingdom.
"I think Connor deeply misses his father," Rein said. "There are a lot of issues for kids whose parents are in the service. It’s very stressful. These children have a heavy load and they still have to come to school and function."