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She was 15 and pregnant. See how this art teacher changed the course of her life

James Dickey's classroom was "an escape," for Kayla Carlile, who gave birth her sophomore year of high school.
/ Source: TODAY

A teen mom’s tribute to to her late high school art teacher is moving people to tears. 

In a now-viral Instagram video, Kayla Carlile shares the story of how James Dickey pushed her to keep painting after she became pregnant at 15. Carlile recounts how she would eat lunch in Dickey’s classroom, and his words of encouragement: “Don’t stop — you’ve got something special," "I got your work displayed at the public library!"

The clip is set to indie artist HONESTAV’S heartbreaking song “Stuck on the Floor.

Dickey, who taught Carlile at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, died in 2021. According to Dickey's obituary, he volunteered at a juvenile detention facility "in hopes that art might be a meaningful lifeline" for its residents.

At publish time, Carlile’s reel had been seen more than 22 million times.

“Mr. Dickey used to talk to us about the fate of artists and how they often don’t become well known until after they pass away,” Carlile tells TODAY.com. “That’s been on my mind for the last few days. I don’t think he could have imagined the legacy he left and how many people are seeing the difference he made in the lives of his students.”


James Dickey visited his former student Kayla Carlile at an art fair in Oregon in 2018. He later moved to Ohio.
James Dickey visited his former student Kayla Carlile at an art fair in Oregon in 2018. He later moved to Ohio.Courtesy Kayla Carlile

Carlile is now 26, while her son, Landon is 10, but the memories of her teenage pregnancy are still fresh. Carlile remembers the stares as she walked down the hallways and feeling “isolated” from her peers. She remembers not having anyone to sit with in the cafeteria after her friends "pulled away."

“I would hear a lot of things through the grapevine that people were saying about me,” Carlile recalls. "Mr. Dickey's classroom was an escape from all of that."


Carlile was a sophomore in high school when she gave birth to her son, Landon.
Carlile was a sophomore in high school when she gave birth to her son, Landon.Courtesy Kayla Carlile

At the time, Carlile’s parents and Dickey were her main support systems. Dickey encouraged Carlile to use art as a therapeutic outlet, and he also enlisted her to be his teaching assistant during her free periods.

“He made kids feel comfortable — specifically kids like me who felt like they were on the outskirts of social groups," Carlile says. “His classroom felt safe. He’d his play guitar and Bob Marley records, and there was always this murmur, this hum of people talking. It was a welcoming space for everyone.”

Carlile (here with her son, Landon) graduated from high school with honors.
Carlile (here with her son, Landon) graduated from high school with honors. Courtesy Kayla Carlile

After giving birth in May of her sophomore year, Carlile — who was an honors student —graduated with her class in 2015, and went on to receive a full-ride scholarship to the University of Oregon. She now works at a financial advising firm and as a freelance artist.

“Mr. Dickey and I had quite a few conversations about overcoming obstacles in life, and how your circumstances don’t have to define you,” Carlile says. “So he really made me feel like I could be an artist and that my life wasn’t over because I was going to be a teen mom.”

Carlile’s Instagram post was flooded with comments, with many people paying tribute to their own teachers.

“I was always in my drama teacher’s class room at lunch. I wasn’t pregnant, I was an outcast and unaware that I was neurodivergent. John Ward provided a safe space for me. He encouraged me and lifted me up in a time that I needed it most. He passed away two years ago,” one person wrote.

Added author S.A. Cosby,  "I was poor, my mom was disabled and we lived in a trailer with no running water. Mr. Bohn my high school English teacher noticed I liked to write. He encouraged me, gave me books, used to give me a ride home so I could do Drama club . Today I’m a NYT best seller. Mr. Bohn, thank you for believing in the poor kid with the old boots.""Every past student of Mr. Dickey's that has commented has said the same thing, 'He was an incredible man,'" Carlile tells TODAY.com. "He had such an impact on my life, but also the lives of so many youths that he worked with."