Kindergarten class helps with proposal

by Sonja J. Keith
photos courtesy of Karin Fulgham

Matt Davis surprised Hayley Hillis, his girlfriend of eight years, in a big way when he proposed.

While the words “fiancé” and “engagement” are not typically on a kindergartener’s spelling list, students in Hayley’s class at Carolyn Lewis Elementary School in Conway are now acquainted with the words after being invited to help Matt pop the question. He also enlisted the help of Principal Tina Antley and others at the school to pull off the surprise on Friday, Oct. 16.


Hayley and Matt met while attending Conway High School and began dating when they were 15. After graduation, they both attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. “She was kind of the reason I went to Fayetteville,” Matt said. Hayley earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. Matt received a bachelor’s degree in animal science.

With a plan to return to Conway after college, Hayley describes them as “home bodies” close to their parents and siblings. She is a daughter of Doug and Carrie Hillis. Her siblings are Kyle and Peyton. Matt’s parents are Rose and Darrin Roland of Conway and Les and Julie Davis of Siloam Springs. His siblings are Allie Davis, Rachel Davis, Sam Davis, Wayne Roland and Alyssa Roland.

The couple had talked about getting married for a while, but Matt wanted to wait until after they had graduated college and were settled. Hayley, who is in her first year of teaching, said she had been hoping for a couple of months that he would pop the question, but when the time came, she was surprised. She said that particular Friday was hectic with school photos and a student getting sick that morning in her class. That afternoon, she was called out of her classroom for a meeting, which gave Matt and others time to set things up.

Matt’s idea was to position the kindergarteners along the hallway outside her room with rose petals on the floor. Half of the students held a sign with a year on it representing the time they had been together. The other students held photos taken that year.

Matt was inside her room with a sign that read “Will you marry me?”

Hayley said as she started back to her classroom and saw her students in the hall, she was uncertain what was taking place. “I turned the corner and there he was,” Hayley said.

“I’ve never been so nervous in all my life,” Matt said, adding that he and Hayley both had difficulty speaking and she was shaking. While the students and teachers were in the hallway peeking in and some family hid in a closet in the classroom, Matt and Hayley were able to share a private moment when he got down on one knee.

Matt had been considering the best way to propose for some time. He put a lot of thought into it, knowing how important the students are to Hayley.

“I knew it would be special to her knowing how much they mean to her. I wanted it to be perfect.”

He added that a good friend offered him some great advice — “Take your time and really enjoy the moment. It will be something you will remember the rest of your life.”

Hayley said that some of the students thought Miss Hillis actually got married on that Friday, prompting some inquiries from their parents. “They had such a big part in it,” Hayley said.

Matt also picked out the engagement ring, opting not to seek the help or advice of anyone. “We never went to look at rings,” Hayley said. “He did his own thing, and I love it.” Matt added, “I wanted it to come from me.”

Not only did Matt surprise Hayley with the proposal, he planned an engagement party that evening with 30 to 40 friends and family. Hayley was so caught up in the moment, she didn’t even notice one of their friends arriving late and having to duck behind a tree as she and Matt walked to the front door of her home. “I was loving life and tickled silly,” she said.

Matt and Hayley are busy working out the details for a June 25 wedding. Hayley’s class will be among the invited guests. “My kids still talk about it (the proposal). They are already so special to me. I think of them as my own kids. This made them that more special.”

Both Matt and Hayley are happy with the proposal. “He did good,” she said. “I’m still impressed with him. He pulled it all off. It was special. That was one of my best days.”