Chicago elementary students surprise beloved lunch lady Miss Janet

CHICAGO -- School employees are generally celebrated when they reach a milestone, like an anniversary or retirement.

But the parents, teachers and staff at Blaine Elementary School in Wrigleyville on Chicago's North Side wanted to celebrate a woman they call "the heart" of their school - just because.

"They love her, they want to hug her, they want to dance with her, they want to play with her," PTA president Lauren Trost said. "She can be stern sometimes, but they love that about her too."

Janet Hartu, or "Miss Janet" as the students call her, has staffed the lunch line at Blaine for the last decade. She knows every student's name and which students have food allergies. She can also suss out how a kid is feeling on any given day.

"My oldest son has been here for eight years," parent Melilssa Silvers said. "He's autistic and has a special connection with her from the day he came in."

It's a connection Miss Janet shares with the hundreds of students she calls "her kids." On Thursday, she realized none of that goes unnoticed.

"When she gets off the line, she's in the lunch room," principal Angie Britow said. "She's sitting with kids. She's singing and dancing. She's just a presence and it's great to see her with our students. We're lucky."

Miss Janet said she feels lucky too - and has a lot of years left in her. She's not going anywhere. Why would she?

"I'm happy," she said. "I'm happy that I'm appreciated and loved. I didn't know that I was loved this much. But now I know."

Miss Janet said being a grandmother taught her about how her students need to be loved, and she rarely takes a day off. She said she knows the kids thrive off of consistency and she wants to be there for them.

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