Remarkable Women: Georgetown teacher turns family tragedy into kindness in the classroom

Williamson County

We asked you to tell us about inspiring women in your life. We went through hundreds of nominations in our Remarkable Women contest. Now, we’re sharing our four finalists’ stories.

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Words can not describe the pain a mother feels after losing her child, but Jacki James knows the power of words.

Positive, inspiring poster — “Change the World One Act of Kindness at a Time” — line the walls of her classroom and the halls at the Georgetown High School where she teaches English.

Graduation announcements from current students are pinned next to a school photo of Peyton. He should have graduated last year. Instead, Jacki stares at Peyton’s picture. His deep blue eyes, red hair and big smile stare back at her. He was her only child. ​

Her eyes begin to water when she wonders “What if?”

“I wonder — I’m left with wonder,” Jacki says. “What would he be doing? Now, the biggest wonder — is he proud of me?”

Remembering Peyton

He started in his life and ended it in the same manner — on machines.”

Jacki James
jacki and peyton as a baby
Jacki James and her son, Peyton (Courtesy Jacki James)

Jacki wipes away the tears and picks up another photo of Peyton, when he was first born.

He was born nine weeks premature, weighing 2-and-a-half pounds. His body could fit in the palm of Jacki’s hand. He spent more than a month in the neonatal intensive care unit, hooked up to a machine with tubes coming out of his nose to help him breathe.

Jacki says Peyton grew into a smart, funny kid with an infectious laugh.

“When he was in second grade is when the bullying started,” she said. Jacki says Peyton was constantly bullied at a school since he was 8 years old. ​

“Kids are mean, and they started to make fun of him and pick on him about how he had red hair, freckles and he wore glasses. He hated athletics. He would rather read a book,” Jacki says.

They moved several times to several different cities, hoping to get away from the bullying before settling down in Georgetown.

“And, unbeknownst to me, it didn’t change. Peyton was just that kid that other kids picked on,” Jacki says. “There were multiple incidents at his new school that he didn’t tell me about.” ​

Three weeks later, Peyton took his own life. He was 13-years-old. ​

“At the end of his life, he was an organ donor. Those machines kept his body alive so six other people could live,” Jacki says. “That’s pretty amazing to me. I never saved anybody and he saved six.” ​

  • If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress or suicidal crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, 24/7 confidential service that can provide support, information and local resources at 800-273-8255. There is also a free text-message service that offers 24/7 support for those in crisis and can be reached by texting 741-741. If it’s an emergency, please dial 911.
jacki and peytonm
Jacki James and her son, Peyton (Courtesy Jacki James)

Saving lives with Kindness Matters​

Shortly after losing Peyton, she started Kindness-matters.org. ​

“I have this Peyton-shaped hole in my heart and this is my passion now, trying to help other kids,” Jacki says.

kindness matters
Participants in “Kindness Matters” (Courtesy Jacki James)

The project is not an “anti-bullying” campaign, she says. Instead, it’s a Pro-Kindness message she shares with students all over Texas.

“I think, overall, we’ve spoken to 36,000 students over the last 4-and-a-half years. We do activities with the kids where they can see firsthand the power of their words,” Jacki says.

The students are encouraged to write down negative and positive words on bright orange pieces of paper, “and we ask kids to write down words that hurt them and then they share with the whole audience and it’s very very powerful. Then we asked them to write down words that made them feel good. They share those, too.”

The orange pieces of paper with positive and powerful words are then hung all over school hallways — like the Georgetown school where Jacki teaches. ​

‘Make it that kindness is not what is expected but the norm’

Jacki says her classroom is a safe place for students. She has zero tolerance for bullies.

“I see my students and I see kids who are Peyton — who are the one that everybody picks on and always the butt of the joke,” Jacki says. “My students know they don’t do that here.” ​

Instead, she pushes them to encourage each other and accept each other.

“If my story makes someone be nice to the next person just for a moment, I don’t expect a big explosion of ‘Today is the day the world has changed!'” Jacki says. “But little by little, piece by piece, maybe we can change things and make it that kindness is not what is expected but the norm.”​

The message

You just have to be a nice human being and the rest of it will fall into place.”

Jacki James​

There is something Jacki never wants to change.

“That sweet little voice — that’s how I want to remember him.”

When he was 10-years-old Peyton recorded the greeting you hear when you call Jacki’s phone:​ “Hey, this is Peyton. My mom Jacki can’t come to the phone right now. Leave your message at the end of the beep!”​

The “message” Jacki wants to leave everyone with will always be the same: “Watch what you say, think about the words you say — because they have power.”​

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Austin-Travis County

More Austin-Travis County News

Coronavirus Resources

More Coronavirus Resources

Trending Stories

Don't Miss