Passing Grade

updated 05/07/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/07/2001 01:00AM

The irony wasn't lost on Clair Clark's ninth-grade students at North Eugene High School. While she was broadening their horizons by teaching them global studies, her hectic schedule—at work by 7, home after 9—left her own world decidedly narrower. "She didn't have much of a life," says McKenzie Phillips, 15, now a tenth grader. "So we thought maybe we should spice it up a bit. We wanted to give her something back for being a great teacher."

They weren't talking apples. On May 12, Clark, 28, will marry Kevin Wiles, 32, the hydroelectric company foreman she met through a personal ad her students posted on the Internet. Held onstage in the Eugene, Ore., school's auditorium, the ceremony will feature a play about the couple's courtship written and performed by 30 of Clark's students—and Phillips will be maid of honor. "No way I would have encountered Kevin without the kids' placing that ad," says Clark. "They were directly responsible."

Not that she was happy about that at first. Monitoring a study hall last March, Clark grew suspicious about the personal questions (What's your favorite food? Favorite music?) that Phillips and some friends were asking her. Once they confessed that the answers were headed for LOVE@AOL.com, Clark tried to erase the ad—but too late. By the end of the week, she had 40 e-mail responses, narrowed to two keepers by her self-appointed matchmaking team. As a lark, she decided to meet them. Bachelor No. 1 wasn't her style, but No. 2 struck a chord. "Everything was so natural," Clark says. "It was like being with family."

The pair share Navy backgrounds (she's a reservist, he a former nuclear submarine plant operator), checkered romantic histories (her first marriage ended in '96, his in '92) and upbringings in the Northwest (Clark grew up in Portland, Ore.; Wiles in Selah, Wash.). Clark liked his "compassion and thoughtfulness," as well as his rottweiler and basset hound. His way with marriage proposals wasn't bad either. At a make-your-own-jack-o'-lanterns farm last October, Wiles carved "Marry Me" in a pumpkin and put a diamond ring in its nose. "Clair didn't say a word for almost a minute—I was dying," he says. "Then she just hugged me, and I said, 'Is that a yes?' "

To her students' delight, it was. "They make a cute couple," says Phillips. "It's amazing it would happen this way. I think it's wonderful."

Clark thinks so too. She's drawing the line at student participation in her honeymoon, but she can't thank the little meddlers enough. "The kids," she says, "brought out the life in me."

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