7: A Shooting Star

7: A Shooting Star

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

A Shooting Star

There is no footprint too small to leave an imprint on this world.

~Author Unknown

On the Friday before a long President’s Day weekend, the school secretary came to my fifth grade classroom just before the close of school. She asked if I could meet with the principal as soon as I dismissed my class. At 3:00 p.m., I said goodbye to my excited students, who were anxious to begin their extended holiday weekend, and then went to my principal’s office. She asked me to take a seat and then, with tears in her eyes, informed me that one of my students — a boy who had left earlier that very day for a family vacation — died in a car accident.

I returned to my classroom and went to Weston’s desk. There I cried new tears, as well as some that were many years old. The news took me back many years to the death of my brother, who had also died in an accident when he was eleven years old. I remembered the loss my family felt over my brother Robert. I thought about the way my classmates and teachers had initially offered words of comfort, and about how these were eventually followed by awkward glances and silences.

Weston had not only been part of our tightly knit community since kindergarten, but he also held a very special place in my heart. He was a leader among his peers. He was a star athlete, and he treated his classmates with kindness and compassion. I will always remember the day a new boy with special needs sat longingly watching Weston and his friends playing a game. Weston walked over to the child and asked him to join their group. The child was shy and nervous, but Weston’s encouragement and engaging smile welcomed him into the game and into our class.

When school reopened after the long weekend, students entered the room with their moms and dads. Each child’s eyes turned to look at the desk, now separated slightly from the group and topped with a bouquet of flowers and Weston’s class photo.

After everyone arrived, I met my pupils’ gazes with much trepidation. I asked his friends and their parents to share some of their favorite memories of Weston. Some of the stories brought smiles, some tears, and a few even brought gentle laughter.

After a short while, the counselors rounded up the parents and took them to the conference room. It was then that my plan began to unfold. As I stood by Weston’s desk, I slid a note I had written to his parents inside. I told my students that they could do the same. They could bring photos, notes, and various mementos and place them in his desk anytime. I would collect them in a box each night to be given to his parents at a later date.

Then we brainstormed about things we could do to help us remember our friend and classmate. After several class meetings, we had made a decision: We were going to make a memory book for his parents, as well as look into replacing the basketball hoop and placing a plaque on it in memory of our star athlete. This would take money, so we agreed to hold a bake sale to help cover the costs.

When we had the bake sale, some of my better math students realized that we might not make enough money. I tried not to smile as they began splitting brownies and other treats in half before placing them in small plastic bags. As children lined up outside the lunchroom, several adults also waited in line with five- and ten-dollar bills requiring “no change.” By the end of the day, we had met our goal.

I was pleased to see that Weston’s best friend, most devastated by the loss, was beginning to take a leadership role in the process. His mother and several others purchased an album and supplies for the memory book. Each child had a page to himself for a collage of memories. They would rush through their lunches to meet with parent volunteers to begin their “gift” of memories.

The following month, on what would have been Weston’s twelfth birthday, his family came to join us. I remember the sadness in his parents’ eyes as they looked upon Weston’s desk, empty except for his framed class photo. His best friend walked up to his mother and handed her their gift of memories. Their sadness turned to joy as they turned the pages of this treasure. I studied the proud looks on each of my students’ faces.

We had one month to complete our second goal: installing the basketball hoop. I put in a request to the district to purchase a new net and hoop. A week later, a man from the district office stood outside my classroom door. He apologized for the interruption and asked if this was the class that wanted to fix the broken basketball hoop. When I replied that we were, he explained that after inspecting the cracked backboard, he feared that it would not support the repair. Upon hearing this, I explained the reason behind the request. After a moment, the man coughed, cleared his throat, and said that the backboard was probably a safety violation. In fact, he would see to it that a new one was ordered and delivered with a new hoop and net.

Several weeks later, we heard a truck pull up to the basketball court outside our classroom door. Three men unloaded a new backboard. We went outside and sat on the lawn to watch the excitement unfold. After the men replaced the backboard and installed the plaque honoring Weston, they bowed, jumped back into their truck, and bounced over the hilly field to the road to the cheers and applause of my boys and girls.

The last week of school is a time of celebrations, some bittersweet. The last Friday of the school year is traditionally a time to honor children for their academic achievements. This year, a special recognition was added: Weston’s Shooting Star Award. This honored a child who truly exemplified the spirit of Weston through sportsmanship and leadership. Joining us at the ceremony were his family, aunts, and grandmother. My class stood proudly as the award honoring Weston was bestowed upon his longtime friend and classmate.

After everyone had left except my class and Weston’s family, his dad pulled a new basketball from a sack and signaled for us to join him. Then I watched with a heavy heart as everyone, including Weston’s grandmother, came up to the basketball hoop and made a shot in memory of our Shooting Star.

~Catherine Kopp

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