WESTPORT - They were expecting someone from the Air Force to come around the corner, just not the person that appeared.
For Kaleigh, DJ and Jayden Rodriguez, the assembly at Westport Central School Friday, Dec. 10 was to practice for the annual hallway caroling and to announce that the cards that the students had made for their father, Air Force Technical Sgt. Steve Rodriguez, were on their way to South Korea.
However, the trio of students were informed that the cards had not made it into the mail on time, and that a special representative from the Air Force was coming to deliver them personally.
That representative turned out to be Technical Sgt. Steve Rodriguez - the children's father.
"I was surprised," said Jayden, a third-grader.
"I didn't expect my dad to come around the corner," said Kaleigh, a sixth-grader. "It took a second for it to sink in that it was him."
"It was awesome," said DJ, a fifth-grader. "Now he will be home to go to my basketball games and help coach me."
Sgt. Rodriguez said that when he learned he would be coming back to his family, who had moved to Westport just a couple of weeks before he was deployed to South Korea about five months previous, he thought he would try something that he had seen done on YouTube.
"I saw a collection of homecomings like this on YouTube," Rodriguez said. "I told my wife, Melissa, about this idea and she went to the principal with it and they just ran with it."
Michelle Friedman, principal at Westport Central School, said they were excited when Melissa approached them.
"If we have a chance that we can work it out, I told them that we would absolutely go for it," said Friedman, who gave the credit for the event to fifth-grade teacher Kathy Bedore.
"I just like doing stuff for people," said Bedore, who teaches DJ in her classroom. "It's great to see how things like this make people happy."
Bedore said the plan was to surprise the kids through a bunch of "little white lies."
"We all made cards to send to him, and DJ took them down to the office this morning so we could mail them out," Bedore said. "We then set up the assembly to sing songs and to talk about those who were serving and to let them know that we had a special representative from the Air Force here. The faculty and staff were great about it and everyone who helped pull this off was fantastic."
"We wanted to make sure that we did this in a way that was appropriate and that added to the educational experience," said Friedman. "We felt that this was a great opportunity and you add this to everything else that is going on here, and it has just been an emotional high for this school over the past month."
For Rodriguez, the chance to be home for the holidays added something special to the surprise homecoming.
"It feels good, I'm glad and they are happy now," said Rodriguez. "It was perfect timing. I'm overwhelmed and so excited that I got the chance to come back for the holidays."
Rodriguez got to the school after a long flight and trip from Burlington, Vt., but said that the fatigue left him when he entered the school auditorium.
"I was dog tired," said Rodriguez. "But when I hit the corner of that door, I woke right up."
Rodriguez added that while he was excited to see his kids, he had another thought as he first entered the room.
"Don't fall down in front of all these students was my real first thought," he joked. "Then I was wondering where my kids were and getting to see them."
Rodriguez also took time to thank the community of Westport for their support.
"I barely got a chance to see the place before I left," he said. "The people have been so kind and supportive of my family, and the school has been great. This community has been amazing. Westport rocks, and this school rocks."