From the staff

Stancill: A painful week at school

jstancill@newsobserver.comDecember 20, 2012 

Near and far in the past week, our grief over lost children has been unimaginable but all too real. The nation wept with the families of the 20 first-graders killed by a gunman in Newtown, Conn.

We couldn’t believe what had happened as we saw their smiley, freckle-faced pictures on the evening news.

Children have learned lessons. Parents, too. And we are all reminded that we are fortunate to have amazing teachers, coaches and principals who give their talent, energy and yes, sometimes their lives, for their students.

I saw the love firsthand on Monday night at Githens Middle School in Durham, where my son played in his first band concert.

The gym was packed. Parents and students wore purple ribbons in honor of Kassie Graves, 12, a percussionist in the seventh-grade advanced band, who had been seriously injured a week before in a bike accident. In her honor, a drum was set up in front of the band with a bouquet of purple flowers resting on top.

The band’s Twitter feed included a photo of the drum with this: “One Band. One Heartbeat. Much Love.”

The band plays on

Band Director Patrick Blackburn told the crowd it had been one of the hardest weeks of his life. And he thanked parents for allowing him to teach their children, who had blossomed into eager young musicians.

The school had decided that the concert should go on as planned, even as everyone prayed and worried about Kassie.

It’s hard to know just how to handle these things. A Clayton High versus Garner High basketball game last week was postponed after the shocking death of Hogan Teem, a popular Clayton baseball player who had collapsed during a workout. Hundreds attended Teem’s funeral this week.

In Newtown, the solidarity of the community, perhaps, helped ease the pain. The funerals were attended by scores of young children, many who wore T-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with the school logo, as if to show the world that they were proud.

Children are resilient. They can find joy even when it seems impossible to the rest of us.

At Githens on Monday, the youngsters performed well. The eighth-graders took on a jazzy medley from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The sixth-graders played “The Dreidel Song.” The seventh-graders performed a piece called “Integrity.”

Afterward, in the crowded hallways, the veteran band members congratulated the newbies on a job well done. Spirits were high.

Blackburn was proud of his musicians. “Ultimately,” he said, “we were all there for each other. You know, we had a job to do, and we did it.”

The next day they got the awful news that Kassie had died from her injuries.

“You found peace now, Kassie,” the band’s tweet said. “We love you very much.”

Kassie Graves will be remembered in a memorial service Saturday.

Jane Stancill covers education for The News & Observer.

jstancill@newsobserver.com or919-829-4559

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