GOLETA, Calif. (KTVU) - For 22 years, longtime teacher Katherine James has not missed a single first day of school at Mountain View Elementary in Goleta-- that is, until this year.
That's because she has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
Diagnosed last May, James learned the cancer was very aggressive.
"...she didn't have the chance to finish out the school year with her kids, which was hard for her," explained friend Brigitte Welty.
Welty described James as a dedicated teacher who is loving, selfless and kind.
Her son had her as a teacher in 3rd grade six years ago. But Welty first met James when her daughters attended Mountain View. The girls are now seniors in high school. And Welty has kept in close contact with James over the years.
So as her friend neared the end of her chemotherapy treatment, Welty started thinking about ways the community could demonstrate their love and support for the woman who has shown nothing but love and support for her students.
"The entire Mountain View school community adores Katherine and her warm, loving nature and [I] wanted her to know that she's not alone in this battle," Welty explained to KTVU.
She said she got an idea from her own sister who herself is battling stage 3 cancer. Her sister told her how it is often tradition for people to mark the last chemotherapy session by holding a bell ringing ceremony.
So Welty decided to surprise James by bringing together a group of her supporters all equipped with bells and signs with messages of encouragement and support.
The group waited for the teacher outside her home following her final chemo treatment on Sept. 11 to deliver an emotional surprise celebration.
"The kids were so excited to see her when she arrived from her treatment," Welty said. "A lot of hoots and hollers and bell ringing."
The kids held up signs with messages expressing their love and words like, "Never give up," "Stay strong, Smile, Fight hard!" and "Team Mrs. James."
Parent Ivana Firestone was among those in the crowd and said the highlight was James' overwhelmed reaction.
"Emotions were high but none greater than the joy in her expression when she saw her students," Firestone said.
Sometimes when you are in battle, a strong message and show of encouragement from your army of supporters can go a long way.
It appears James' "army" got its message across to their beloved teacher.
"Katherine's husband, Jeff, texted me a couple hours after the little celebration," Welty said, "to tell me that Katherine was floating with happiness."