ROCKWELL — Students at Shive Elementary School helped their teacher deliver a special Valentine on Thursday.
Jacob Pace, an exceptional children’s teacher, proposed to his girlfriend as four of his students held up signs reading: “Will,” “you,” “marry,” “Mr. Pace?”
At first, Shelby Carrion didn’t know what she was seeing. She greeted the children and turned away to put down the box of doughnuts she had bought.
“I just thought I was going to come play with the kids,” Carrion said. “I was not expecting this at all.”
The students — Harleigh Kesler, Jacob Usher, Lillie LaRoche and Ryan Meismer — dutifully stayed put.
Another teacher in the room called out, “Shelby, you need to read the signs.”
When Carrion took a closer look, she put her hand to her mouth and her eyes filled with tears. Pace knelt on one knee and held up a sparkling ring, and Carrion grinned as she said “yes” and kissed her new fiance.
“It was absolutely amazing. It was so cute,” Carrion said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better way for him to do it.”
She said she loves the ring, which features a princess-cut diamond surrounded by accent stones on a white-toned band. It’s a little too big, though, so she has to get it resized.
Carrion unknowingly picked out her engagement ring in Pennsylvania on a recent visit to Pace’s mother. The two Rockwell residents had talked about getting married and went to visit some ring shops.
“There were other rings that she said, ‘Oh, I really like that one’... but with this one I could see it in her face,” Pace said. “I was like, ‘I want to get that for her, but I don’t want to buy it with her here.’ I wanted it to be as much of a surprise as possible.”
After they left, he called a local jewelry store in the same chain to order it. Then, Pace started to plan how he was going to propose.
Carrion, who works with the Arc of Rowan, sometimes comes to visit Pace’s students and help out in class. He decided to ask her to visit on Valentine’s Day, and he arranged for the five children in that class to hold up signs reading, “Will you marry our teacher?”
When one of them had to stay home sick, he replaced the last two words with “Mr. Pace” on one sign.
On Thursday morning, the plan looked to be in peril. Carrion said she didn’t think she could stop by the school that day because she had to work.
When Pace couldn’t convince her to come, he called her mother — assistant director at Arc of Rowan — for help.
“My mom called me, saying, ‘There’s nothing for you to do today, so you can just go,’ ” Carrion said.
With that, she stopped by Krispy Kreme to pick up Valentine’s Day doughnuts and headed to the school.
The couple had no other plans for Thursday, Carrion said, because she did indeed have to go to work. But after that morning’s excitement, she said she’d rather go home, relax and sleep.
Carrion and Pace have been together for nearly two years.
Pace said she used to help with his class when he taught at Salisbury High School. Then, a tragic situation brought them closer.
“One of my students passed away, and she came to the funeral,” Pace said. “We started communicating more after that.”
He said he and Carrion both have a heart for helping children with disabilities, and they share that caring spirit with each other, too.
Pace said he’s glad that the proposal worked out - and that his new fiancee said “yes.”
“I’m not very good at keeping up surprises,” he said. “It was difficult, because I had to kind of create some lies to get her here.”
With a teasing smile, Carrion added, “You lied. Just say it.”
Pace did lie, he said, but it was worth it.
“I’m so happy and excited,” he said. “And relieved.”