The challenges of a college math class can reduce many students to tears.
But when a visitor to Dr. Samuel Reed’s class at Lander University began crying, he did the unexpected. The assistant professor of math education picked up the visitor and continued teaching.
The “visitor” was Aria, the 2-month-old daughter of Peterra Richburg, a senior majoring in elementary education and a student in Reed’s class.
A last-minute change in childcare put Richburg in a quandary. Should she stay home and miss class or go to campus? Richburg, determined to stay on track for her May 2023 graduation, put Aria in the car and headed to Lander. “I didn’t have time to let Dr. Reed know that I was bringing her with me. I was so nervous about it.”
While their arrival may have been a surprise to her classmates, the response was joyous. “They were saying, ‘there’s a baby in the class,’ ” said Richburg, who was grateful for the welcoming reception Aria received.
When Aria became a bit fussy, Reed scooped her up and continued teaching so that Richburg could take notes. Aria was comforted, and the class continued.
“She was alert and looking around when Dr. Reed was holding her,” she said. “It was very sweet.”
Richburg snapped a photo and shared it on social media with the tag “Compassion In Class.” It caught the attention of people on campus and beyond.
Aria is the first baby to attend one of Reed’s classes. “I was surprised and excited by baby Aria's visit to the class! Peterra had not brought her to class this semester, and I did not even know she was a new mom,” he said.
When Aria became fussy, “I figured we could ignore her cries until Mom returned, or I could hold her and see if I could help. So, I picked her up and continued teaching,” said Reed, who was leading a class on how to teach addition to students. “I also wanted Peterra to not feel distracted and be able to actively participate with her peers around her. Plus, who doesn't want to hold a cute baby!? Guests, especially cute babies, are always a pleasant visit.”
The father of a 2-year-old child, Reed said, “As a parent, I think I have always had a healthy expectation that ‘my community is going to help me raise this child, right?’ I feel it would be rather hypocritical of me to not be willing to turn around and help another parent who needs a little love and compassion in the moment.”
Reed said he is very fortunate to be a faculty member at Lander and to be a member of the Lander community.
“I am not a unique Lander professor who goes out of their way to accommodate students. In fact, I am not even the first of my colleagues in the mathematics department to go viral for holding a student's baby and continuing to teach,” he said.
Reed is referring to Dr. Josie Ryan. In 2016, a photo of Ryan holding a baby during her class received national and international attention. The viral moment occurred when a student began the academic year and gave birth during the second week. Ryan asked her the new mother, Sarah Thompson, to bring the newborn to class. Sarah was hesitant at first. But a hectic day sent her and son, Isaiah, to class. Ryan taught with the sleeping baby in her arms, and Isaiah went to the class on other occasions.
Richburg, a Charleston native, hopes to return to the Lowcountry and teach at Charleston Morningside Middle, where she once was a student. For now, she juggles her classes with a one-hour commute to Lander and student teaching. “I get up every morning after having no rest,” she said. “I don’t mind. Aria is my world. I love her so much.”
Will Aria return to Lander?
“Dr. Reed said that I can bring Aria back any time,” said Richburg. “I’m not sure when that will be, but maybe on a day when I’m not student teaching.”
And in another 18 years or so, maybe Aria can be a Lander Bearcat, too.