TERRE HAUTE — Sugar Grove Elementary student Jaylee Eldridge stood patiently in the school cafeteria Wednesday waiting for an opportunity to have a picture taken with Tiarra Taylor, who is Miss Indiana and a Miss America contestant.
Wearing her crown and Miss Indiana sash, Taylor also served as principal for a day at the school, part of a district-wide event in which community leaders shadow VCSC principals. She is an Indiana State University senior from New Albany..
After Eldridge finally got her picture with Miss Indiana, Taylor asked her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The little girl responded, “You.”
Taylor, almost overcome with emotion, told the third-grader no one had ever said that to her before. She told Eldridge to reach for her dreams, but to be herself. The two hugged for a second time.
Eldridge enjoyed lunch with her grandmother, Kandee Cook, as part of grandparent week.
Meeting with children and grandparents at lunchtime was just part of what Taylor experienced in her half-day shadowing principal Teresa Stuckey.
At the start of the day, Taylor helped turn on lights when the school was short of custodians. She greeted children as they arrived, visited classrooms and read poetry with students. And, she mingled with families at lunchtime.
At breakfast, one child asked her, “Did you come here in a limousine? … I was like — I wish.”
Another student asked her if she lived in a castle. “I totally wanted to tell her yes, but I actually live on a college campus … I wish I could live up to what they expect of a princess,” Taylor said.
Her platform as Miss Indiana focuses on underserved children and bringing advantages to disadvantaged youth.
“It’s all about empowering young people and giving them the tools necessary to thrive,” she said. Taylor, a first-generation college student, wants to let those who are underprivileged know “their dreams are tangible despite their circumstance, just because I’m a living testament that it doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are, you can totally do all the things you dream of.”
Stuckey said the school district invites business and community leaders to participate in principal for a day activities “to see all the great things going on in the schools,” including teachers’ dedication, as well as all the challenges schools face each day.
“They can be a voice for us in the community,” Stuckey said.
Later, those who served as principal for a day met for lunch at West Vigo Elementary and shared their experiences.
Taylor said when she was invited to participate, “I didn’t know what I was going into, but I knew it was going to be a lot of fun just because when you’re at an elementary school, kids have this love for life that sometimes we as adults may be missing out on.” After spending a few hours there, she said, “I don’t want to leave.”
She hopes to become a teacher.
Taylor will appear on live TV during the Miss America competition at 8 p.m. Dec. 19 on NBC. “I’m super excited to represent Indiana, my university and my family and friends,” she said.