Rampart High School teacher Brittni Darras was stunned when one of her most successful students attempted suicide last spring. After writing a note of encouragement, Darras was further shocked to learn of the student's self-image problems.
"It was devastating," Darras told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. "It's never easy as a teacher to hear that one of your students is struggling."
Determined to let her other students know that they were appreciated, Darras began writing personal notes to her students -- all 130 of them.
Each note conveyed a personal touch, something that struck Darras as unique to each student -- like the boy who prided himself on being able to wear a different pair of socks each day of the school year.
"I worked on them for two months," Darras said. "I was sitting in an airport waiting to catch a plane, and for two hours waiting I'd be writing card after card after card."
Darras said the biggest lesson she took from the experience was the need to let others know how valued they are, and the impact their lives have on others.
"I think it's important to use kind words to anyone you come across -- whether it's a smile to someone on the street or someone at work and you're telling them 'Hey, I like that you do this,' " Darras said. "Just constantly telling them the things they do well, instead of having to hear all the time what they need to do better or what they're not good enough at."
Click the audio player above to hear the conversation, and read interview highlights below.
On finding something to write about every student:
"It just came naturally. Even the students who might not be the best students or the smartest students or the most-respectful students even, I know something about them that makes them special, makes them unique and it's worth commenting on in those cards.
On what her student who prompted the letters is like:
"She's beautiful. She always walks in with such a bright smile. People love to be around her. The students get along with her. She works great in groups. She's very good about including people. And I just said, 'We miss you and we can't wait to have you back.' "
On what a card can -- and can't -- do:
"In reality, a card might not solve depression. It might not solve suicidal thoughts. But maybe in one moment, for even just one student, when they're feeling down or they're feeling upset or they're feeling like they don't want life to go on, maybe they'll think back to that one card, and they'll think, 'Wow, you know what she cares about me and I want to go back. And I want to tell her how my summer was and what I did.' "