Well, another school year is over…and what a year it was. Back in October I wrote some reflections about September here. September was a difficult month in many ways. But the remainder of the school year continued to be a roller coaster ride that brought tears, laughter and experience, loss, growth and change.
Loss & Tears…
Back in September, I wrote about the loss of a student’s sibling and said that I had yet to experience the loss of a student. Well, in April, we lost a Pre-Kindergarten student in a tragic motor vehicle accident. This, by far, has been the most difficult and devastating experience in my educational career. The VP and I spend each morning greeting students as they enter the school. We start at opposite entrances, but end up together at the front entrance by the time our Pre-K’s are coming in (they come in a bit later to avoid the rush). We have both said greeting these little ones is our favourite part of our day. This little guy came in each morning with a beautiful smile and an enthusiastic jump in his step. He was so excited to come to school to see his friends each day. He was so excited to learn. He had shown tremendous progress through the school year. And in the blink of an eye, he was gone.
There are moments through this experience that I will never forget. The phone call to his mother on the afternoon of the accident to hear that he had been transported by air ambulance to a city hospital. The early morning phone call from his mother two days later telling me that he had succumbed to his injuries. The “meeting” that the VP and I held with the Pre-K parents to let them know what had happened and our plan to support their children and families through this loss. The strength of the classroom teacher and educational assistant. The “meeting” we held with those beautiful little four and five year olds to talk about the loss of their friend. The innocence of their statements and questions. The beauty of their unquestioning faith. The balloon ceremony where we watched all the little ones chase after the balloons they released for their friend. The heart breaking prayer service and funeral service. Hugs from the distraught and grieving parents. The support that the family received from our community and that we received from our school family and our district family.
While we did receive a lot of support, our decisions were also questioned and criticized. Comments, made by staff members. criticizing how we handled this tragedy made their way back to me. This was devastating. I sincerely felt that we had done the very best we could in this difficult situation with guidance from District office, Mental Health therapists and a Psychologist. I felt that we had supported the students, teachers and families. And it hurt that I heard in a round about way. These were very difficult days. Looking back I am proud of our decisions and how we chose to handle each individual issue that arose. And I grew as a result of these experiences.
Growth & Change…
During our last week of school, the little boy’s parents arrived at the school to collect his school things. We hugged and I walked them down to the classroom. The children were excited to see the parents of their friend. With tears in their eyes the parents collected their son’s belongings and a memory book of his time spent with his classmates. I will forever remember walking them back to the entry of the school offering any support they might need and sharing a final, tear-filled hug.
Looking back I ask myself if I could have handled this tragic situation any better or any different. It’s who I am, a person of reflection. And I have thought about this experience over and over. I’m not sure if I would change anything, but I did learn a lot about myself as a leader and as a person. I believe that we have to do the best we can, with the supports and understanding provided, in the moment. As a leader in a school community, I feel that it is important to balance compassion with normalcy. I believe we need to listen to our hearts as much as our heads during these difficult times. Everyone grieves in a different way at a different pace. It is difficult to know what may trigger someone’s tears or difficult days. We need to watch over each other, be kind and forgiving. This is not an easy task in the midst of hurt.
I know that I hug my own children a little tighter and a little longer each day. My little Alexa often reminds me of the “little boy, that used to go to your school Mama, who is up in heaven with the angels.” :) My older daughter has asked about the boy’s sibling and how she is doing. The accident was a difficult reminder of how quickly our lives can change. My oldest son has asked me several times about why these things happen. While my younger boy asks if I am still sad about the little boy. I still find it difficult to travel that part of the road. I often think of the parents of this little one and offer up a prayer for them. Their struggles continue each and every day. It is a parent’s worst nightmare.
Next year, we will continue to greet our students each and every day at our school. We will smile, say, “good morning,” give a hug or a high-5. We will continue to care for and about each of them.
I will forever remember this little boy with the big smile!