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Jenna’s former student surprised her in the best way — by becoming a teacher herself

Maria Galarce Crain shared how she became inspired to become a teacher at her former school after having Jenna as her fifth-grade teacher.

Fifteen years after Jenna Bush Hager's teaching stint at a public charter school in Washington, D.C., a student she inspired to one day become a teacher herself let Jenna know just how much of an impact she made in a short time.

Maria Galarce Crain surprised Jenna on her 40th birthday on TODAY Wednesday, moving her to tears when she described how Jenna's influence on her all those years ago has led her to become a teacher at the same school.

Crain is now a first grade special education teacher at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School after having attended school there in fifth and sixth grade.

Jenna got an emotional 40th birthday surprise from one of her former elementary school students, Maria Galarce Crain, who is now a teacher herself at the same school after being inspired by Jenna.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

"I use Miss Jenna as a model, the way that she taught me literacy, that she was so excited about books and that she came in every day with that smile on her face and that excitement to be in the classroom," Crain said. "I try to emulate that every day with my students."

The student and her former teacher shared an emotional hug on TODAY as Crain surprised Jenna in person.

"I don’t know what to say," Jenna said before Crain walked out. "You think about these kids that you love and you haven’t seen, but I know she’s an incredible teacher."

Jenna's colleagues from her time at E.W. Stokes also remembered her effect on students, particularly in getting them excited about reading, even if it meant dressing up as the Cat in the Hat. Jenna has often spoke about the love of reading that was impressed upon her my her mother, former first lady Laura Bush.

"She was a wonderful teacher," said Bobby Caballero, the campus director of the Brookland Campus of E.W. Stokes. "She did whatever she had to do to make sure her kids would learn. She was always willing to go into character, she was willing to take the students out of the classroom, field trips, just so they could get the full experience of what she was trying to teach."

"Her passion for bringing happiness and learning to each one of the children was amazing," said Ana Maria Donado, who was Jenna’s co-teacher in 2006.

Crain still remembers the day the class was first introduced to their new teacher.

"When I was in fifth grade, we were told that we were going to get a new teacher about halfway through the year, and one January, in walks Jenna Bush, the president's daughter," Crain said. "And for that first 30 minutes it was a little nerve-wracking to have such a celebrity in the classroom, but very quickly she just turned into one of the greatest teachers I've ever had.

"I think the most special thing about having Miss Jenna as a teacher was not that she was the president's daughter, but that she came to school every day and showed her love for each of the students. She was able to instill a love for reading and learning in every student that she taught."

Crain also remembered a fun field trip to Virginia Beach, Virginia, where the girls stayed up late with Jenna painting their nails before it was time to go to sleep.

"It showed Miss Jenna is more of a mentor and a friend rather than just a teacher," she said.

Jenna made such an impression on Crain that she returned to Washington after a few post-college years in Wisconsin in order to take a job at E.W. Stokes. She even has her own Cat in the Hat costume, just like Jenna did back then.

"Now I get to be that teacher that instills a love for literacy and learning in the students that I have today," she said.

"It is a wonderful experience for me as an educator to have Maria back in the building as a teacher," Caballero said. "It brings the work that I do, and the work that all the teachers do, full circle."

Crain's emotional visit with Jenna also brought another surprise. Hoda Kotb announced that Barnes & Noble is donating 1,000 books to the E.W. Stokes school library, including hand-picked children's books from the authors whose work has been selected for Jenna's popular Read with Jenna book club.

Seeing the impact she made on Crain was a poignant part of an epic 40th birthday celebration for Jenna, and her former student made sure to send her some birthday wishes as well.

"Happy 40th birthday Miss Jenna, thank you so much for everything that you've done for me," Crain said. "You really were such an inspiration both as a student and as a teacher, and I hope that one day I can be half as good of a teacher as you were."

Wednesday's surprise showed how much impact a teacher can have on young children.

"A student might not always remember what you taught them, but they'll never forget how you made them feel, and that was something Jenna did very well," Caballero said. "She always made kids feel very special."

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