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Clairton woman's 'family ties' go beyond bloodlines, into the classroom

| Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, 12:56 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Trib Total Media
Lexie McLeod, known affectionately as 'Grandma Lexie' at Clairton Education Center, thanks kindergartners, from left, Sinurity Linnen, Aaliyah Weatherspoon, Marissa Cato, Daevon Gaynor and Adonte Wiggins for a handmade Grandparents Day card.

As households across the nation prepare to celebrate their love for the grandparents who enrich their lives, Clairton kindergartners are giving thanks for the woman they call Grandma Lexie.

Lexie McLeod, 81, has a family that extends far beyond conventional bloodlines. Although she has grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren of her own, McLeod has taken students in the Clairton City School District under her wing for the past 16 years.

As the district's only remaining classroom grandparent, McLeod reports each morning to greet students, help them with their class work, comfort them, and escort them to the nurse's office or restroom.

“I love saying ‘good morning' to the boys and girls and getting high-fives from them,” McLeod said. “I even go to the first- and second-graders to say ‘good morning,' or the high school kids. They all started here.”

Kindergartners set aside time this week to let McLeod know they enjoy her presence just as much as she enjoys theirs. They surprised her with a handmade Grandparents Day card in advance of Sunday.

Adonte Wiggins spoke for his classmates, saying, “Grandma Lexie is the best!”

The 1978 statute declaring the first Sunday of September after Labor Day as Grandparents Day across the United States proclaims it as one to “honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children's children, and to help children become aware of strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.”

Teachers said McLeod embodies those concepts. They said having her and other grandparents from years past in the classroom has given students the comfort and extra guidance they need to transition into a full day of school.

“The classroom is much happier with her in it,” teacher Shana Mignogna said. “The students look forward to seeing her. She's like a real grandma. They have fun with her, but if she raises her voice, they know she means business.”

McLeod said the students make her feel loved at school and in the community.

“I see them at the store,” she said. “They're waving at me and calling me Grandma … even the big kids.”

Darlene Clifford, a parent and a paraprofessional in the school, said McLeod leaves a lasting impression on students. Clifford's oldest son, second-grader Jaivon, speaks so highly of McLeod that her 4-year-old Jailin can't wait to get to kindergarten next year.

“Jaivon fell in love with her,” Clifford said. “He told me she made his day better and asked if he could adopt her as his grandma. He has two grandmothers, and she's right up there with them.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or