Kansas kindergarten teacher Ashley Hicks just wanted to revive a tradition she learned in high school. But she ended up an internet star.
As the school year ended, Hicks remembered being a teenager and wearing a white T-shirt to school so all her classmates could sign it. All the kids did it, she said.
So when she was cleaning out her closet and about to get rid of an old white dress, Hicks thought why not take it to school and let her tiny charges create works of art on it?
"I just didn't expect this dress to do this," she told InsideEdition.com, meaning making her and her kindergartners internet celebrities.
"My heart is so full," she said of all the attention. "The kids were so happy about this, and I'm just happy that my students are getting the attention they deserve. They're all rock stars."
Hicks has been teaching for nearly 20 years. For the last two, she has taught kindergarten at Enterprise Elementary in Wichita, where she leads a class that includes "high trauma" students, which refers to children with behavioral issues and "kids who have been through things" such as loss or foster care, she said.
"Academics is important," she said, "but with school shootings and suicides, students need to know how to regulate themselves, how to talk about things they're feeling," she explained.
Those emotions include anger and sadness, feelings that can be overwhelming to little folks with no coping skills.
"Our staff is very dedicated to helping students," she said, and that also means helping them to have fun.
Which is where the dress came in.
Hicks carried the sleeveless number into her classroom, accompanied by a passel of brightly colored fabric markers. Each child was given a space on the dress to call their own. Then they went to town. "They just doodled away," she said. Hicks encouraged them to write sentences as well.
"Hav a great summer," one kid wrote. "I love rainbows," penned another.
"The dress is important to me because it spreads positivity," she said. "There's a lot things teachers do that no one sees." At the end of each school year, Hicks assembles "survival kits" for each student based on supplies she gathers throughout the year. She packs bottled water and toothbrushes inside, and explains the need for each item.
She does it, she said, to educate them, but mostly to "let them know they are loved" and someone is thinking about them.
Some of the attention she's received from social media and news accounts about her dress has been negative, she said. But she tries to not let that bother her. Some posted comments not realizing she wasn't in the dress while the kids were drawing on it.
"As a teacher, I know there are regulations about what you can do in the classroom," she said, laughing. "I didn't let them draw on my bosom!"
She intends to keep the dress — and to keep track of the students who have left her classroom.
"I'm going to wear it to their graduations," she said.