A Texas teacher known for being a caregiver to her students went the extra mile this holiday season when she officially adopted her former student who revealed he was in foster care.
Bennie Berry, a teacher at Pathways Learning Center in Beaumont, Texas, first met 16-year-old Anthony last November when he joined her English class. While Anthony stood out from other students with his work ethic and eagerness, Berry had no inclination then that her hard-working student wouldn’t just be making an impact in her classroom, but on the course of the rest of her life.
“During a conversation I had with students about family, some of the kids made comments that I should take them home since a lot of them refer to me as a caregiver,” Berry tells PEOPLE. “But Anthony turned to me and said I could take him home, for real. That’s when he told me he was a foster kid and was up for adoption.”
Berry didn’t quite know how to react at first—she wasn’t sure if he was serious, so she tried to assure Anthony that his parents cared for him and all he had to do was be as good for them as he was for her at school. But Anthony explained to his teacher that he had been in foster care since he was 9 years old.
The two continued to talk about the idea, and the next day, Anthony showed Berry his information on the Texas adoption website. Berry contacted the adoption agency to find out more about the process. But Berry admits she was nervous at the prospect of becoming a mother to someone.
“The only thing I knew about adoption was what I saw on TV, and it’s usually a husband and wife team,” she says. “I just didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it. But I filled out the inquiry because I wanted to know more.”
After Berry attended an educational meeting about adoption, she and Anthony continued to float the idea between each other while she settled on a decision. There was only one obligation Anthony had to uphold in the meantime.
“The only deal we had was that he had to be good!” she says while laughing “Any kid of mine can’t be bad or get in trouble!”
But a few months later, Berry was informed that Anthony’s foster mother had put in her 30 days notice to end his stay, and he would be placed in a group home where he would live until he aged out of it. Berry felt she couldn’t let that happen, and informed the agency to start the adoption process as soon as they could.
Anthony moved in with Berry in March, and on November 17, he was officially adopted at a courthouse in Jefferson County.
“It’s been amazing, we’ve learned a lot about each other,” Berry says, “and we’re still learning.”
The last few months have been a transformation for both of them, and Berry has been getting accustomed to taking Anthony to football practice and workouts—and making sure he is fed! But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Every kid deserves a chance,” she says. “I’m learning how to be a real mom. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s worth it.”