Classmates, teachers coping with loss

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

The tears aren't flowing as often as last week at Morenci Elementary School, but that doesn't mean students have pushed aside thoughts of their lost classmates, Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton.

Reminders are everywhere, from the constant barrage of television reports to the yellow ribbons lining street poles downtown.

And at the school, three classrooms have an empty chair.

“Things are better this week,” said dean of students Mary Fisher, “but grief comes in waves.”

Developmental kindergarten teacher Janet Rollins said it’s not uncommon for a child to suddenly start crying and say, “I miss Tanner.”

In Liz Jarrell's first grade class, she's working to maintain high spirits. During an art project Monday, holiday music was playing and students celebrated each other's achievements when each completed the work. Students wrote letters to their missing classmate, Alexander, remembering some of the activities they enjoy doing with him.

The response to the the Skelton boys’ plight varies from child to child, but also among the grade levels. The oldest brother, Andrew, is a student in Andi Rorick’s third grade class. At this age, students go beyond basic sadness and they start to think about more practical—and more frightening—concerns. Are the boys keeping warm? Are they getting food? Where are they sleeping?

Those questions are often too much for an eight-year-old to handle. Fortunately, Morenci’s teachers have had a lot of help in dealing with the crisis, not only for their students but also for themselves.

“We had school counselors in from Hudson, Clinton and Adrian,” Fisher said.

There were also personnel from the Lenawee County Crisis Response Team, as well as the school social worker. Three substitute teachers were also on hand.

“They provided classroom support so teachers could get a break and they went into the classrooms to work with kids. They also provided one-on-one support for staff members and kids.”

Counselors also rode school buses.

“They did a little of everything and they did a really nice job,” Fisher said. “They were trained to respond and they knew what to do.”

There were many staff meetings last week, Fisher said, starting on the previous Sunday, and sometimes there were as many as three a day.

“We talked about how things were going, about how they were doing. There were daily updates to discuss what was and wasn’t true. Our goal was to just try to keep things as normal as possible.”

Staff also planned for the next step—the possible scenarios if and when the boys were located.

Fisher is very appreciative of the leadership shown by superintendent Dr. Michael Osborne.

“He was the organizer and he was a great leader,” she said. “It was really nice to have him there.”

At this point most of the extra staff is out of the building, but they’re on call, Fisher said, and their response will be fast if needed.

Every day is still tough for teachers, especially in the classrooms where the boys belong. There’s a part of the wall in Mrs. Rorick’s room where students posted heart-shaped notes to Andrew listing things they’ve enjoyed doing with him. Every now and then, someone will walk over with a new message to hang.

She describes Andrew as having the biggest heart.

“He sees when people need help and he steps in,” she said. “We all miss him terribly. He is wise and mature beyond his years and...darn...I almost made it through the day without crying.”

Messages from classmates:

Alexander
I miss you Alex. You are handsome.
I hope you come back soon.
I hope you come home safe and I miss you.
Alex, you used to play jokes on me.
It was fun telling jokes together.
I hope you get found. You are a good friend.
When you come back I will give a big hug.
You are the best friend ever and I am sad that you are not here.



Andrew
Andrew is special. He is the nicest person in the whole universe! I hope he gets found. He is very special to me.

I want to know where he is. I don’t want him to be hurt. I am feeling sad about him.

I miss Andrew so much. We used to play war together.

I miss Andrew a lot. We played together a lot. We played ninjas. I hope they will find Andrew. y uncle is in the search team. They even sent helicopters all over Morenci.
 

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