Some weeks are just hard.
While I know that is a sentiment shared in all occupations (or really by all of us as people living our lives), being an educator and enduring during difficult times is even more challenging.
As educators, we realize what a great responsibility we have to the children entrusted to our care.
We know that we must ensure our students receive the highest quality education because it is essential to their future success.
Every grade and course matters.
Our standards and content are difficult; often it seems that there is not enough time for all of the things we need and want to teach our students, so every day matters.
But what does that look like, and how do we do it when tragedy strikes?
This week was one of those times. It began with tragic news: Manning Elementary second-grade student Tristian Williams passed away unexpectedly on Sunday.
Tristian was a kind young man with an infectious smile who made other students feel comfortable at and enjoy school. He adored his older brother and sister, who are students at Roanoke Rapids High School.
When we received the call on Sunday night, we met at the Central Office. We need to be together, so we can enact the plans we use when one of our RRGSD family dies.
We call the family and try to provide comfort and ask what we can do. We call all staff members who were teaching the student, and then we call all families of students in that homeroom. These phone calls are difficult for us to make and difficult as staff members and parents to receive, but we make them so our staff and students are able to begin to process the hard news while they are at home.
We notify all of our school counselors at all campuses, so they can report to the school the next day and support anyone who needs to talk. Many of our Central Office administrators also report to the school the next day to support.
That next day, as staff, we began by coming together to support each other and to pray together — for strength for the day, for comfort for the family and friends, and for peace to flood us.
The days after the death of part of our RRGSD family are difficult.
Each time we walk into a classroom we see the place where the person should be. Their seat is empty; their cubby is empty; and the classroom is missing an important part.
As staff, we pull ourselves together to be there for our students, who are hurting and missing their friend.
We meet our students where they are.
We will get back to the standards and curriculum, but our students are whole people, and we must treat them as such.
But we are people who are hurting too, and I am so thankful that, as staff, we are a family to each other.
When it gets too much, we tag out and can go into the lounge and take a minute to deal with our feelings and then return.
I am also so thankful for our faith-based community.
Our ministers have come in to listen if we need to talk, to pray with us, or to bring donuts and coffee and remind us that we’re not alone.
Since I assumed the role of acting superintendent in September 2021, six current students have passed away.
RRGSD is truly a family, and we walk with the families as we are needed.
We visit the family to see how we can help. Sometimes we’ve collected money for funeral expenses (and we are thankful for the other community partners who step up in a big way to ensure our families have what they need); other times, we’ve accompanied the family to the funeral home to help them with funeral arrangements.
Each of these young students was a special part of our RRGSD family, and neither they, nor their families, are forgotten.
What I’ve just told you is enough for last week to be considered hard, but there were additional difficulties that our staff and students faced as well. We found out that a former student had received a life-threatening injury and is still in the hospital.
We were asked to assist with notifying a current student about his mother’s passing. What do we say when we just don’t have words?
At RRGSD, we have been walking through a season of grief.
On Sunday, many of our staff attended the funeral of Amarriah Smith, who was murdered in January.
Amarriah was the nineteen-year-old daughter of Terkessha Odom, our Manning assistant principal.
She was a student at Elizabeth City State University and she was studying to become a teacher. I know that she would have been an amazing teacher.
The funeral blessed each person who attended, and I am so proud of our RRGSD family for coming together to support our colleague and friend. But because we are a RRGSD family, we continue to grieve.
In times like these, I am so thankful for how we do things here at RRGSD: together.
Today it doesn’t feel like “Together, We Succeed” because our hearts are hurting, but as my mama taught me during difficult times, we have to “Keep on keepin’ on.”
So today, “Together, We Keep On Keepin’ On.”
We pray for strength, comfort, and peace, and we ask you to keep Tristian Williams and Amarriah Smith’s families and our staff and students in your thoughts and prayers as we go through the next days and weeks.