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Fallen Educators Memorial Groundbreaking Included Former School Board Member

Photo: contributed

Dr Gerard Brooker, second from right, a retired teacher and former Newtown Board of Education member, was invited to be part of the groundbreaking ceremony on June 13 for the first memorial that will honor teachers and education personnel who died protecting children while on the job. From left during the formal ceremony is memorial architect Keith Wallace, Emporia Mayor Rob Gilligan, Emporia State University President Michael Shonrock, Bill Maness (representing Senator Jerry Moran), Dr Brooker, and National Teachers Hall of Fame Director Carol Strickland. 

Just north of a 150-year-old schoolhouse in Emporia, Kan., ground was broken earlier this month for the first monument in the United States dedicated to teachers who have died while protecting students. Within its first carving, The Memorial To Fallen Educators will include Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Marie Sherlach, and Victoria Soto, the names of the six women gunned down at Sandy Hook School on 12/14.

A former Newtown resident and Board of Education member, Dr Gerard Brooker was invited to participate in the groundbreaking event on June 13. He also spoke during the annual Teachers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony the following evening. Dr Brooker was inducted into the Teachers Hall of Fame in 1988.

“They asked me to make the speech at the groundbreaking for the monument, and they asked me to talk about ‘The Newtown 6,’” said Dr Brooker. “They knew that I lived in Newtown. All of my children went through the Newtown schools, and I was on the Board of Education for three years.”

Dr Brooker shared a copy of his speech for the groundbreaking with The Bee. In the speech, called “Remembering Newtown, Connecticut,” he said in part that “in the ways of the universe, we welcome all educators to this ceremony, for it is through our fallen colleagues, especially the most recent ‘Newtown Six,’ that the dedication of every educator is acknowledged and honored.”

He shared a story with attendees, about a former student of his who was a talented writer. The student, identified only as Chuck, died of cancer during his second year at college. During the young man’s funeral, the boy’s father told Dr Brooker that among the items that Chuck wanted to be buried with was an essay he had written as an assignment years earlier for Dr Brooker.

“He told his dad that he liked the note that I had written to him on the essay,” Dr Brooker said. “In it, I affirmed his talent and urged him to be responsible for the gift.

“That little note would now go with him across the Great Divide,” continued Dr Brooker. “His generous gesture offered a great gift to me, the understanding that I, and all teachers, have the power to affect the hearts and minds of our students for a long time. Some would even say into eternity.

“When I think of the six fallen teachers from my beloved Newtown, I know, I am certain, that they went beyond affecting their students’ hearts and minds into eternity. Because of who they are and what they did that December morning, they actually escorted their students into eternity. Whenever I forget my purpose, I think of Chuck, and I think of the Newtown Six, and I am reenergized once again with a sense of purpose that is greater than ever.”

Designed by Keith Wallace, a memorial architect with East Central Monuments, the memorial will be built on a 40-foot by 40-foot concrete slab. It will be created from black granite, will be roughly 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide, and will feature a gradually sloping, open book onto which the names of fallen educators will be engraved. The names will be accompanied by the dates and where each victim was teaching when he or she died.

The memorial will include at least 50 names when it is unveiled. Among those who will also have their names inscribed are teacher Robert Bailey, who was killed in Red Bud, Ill., on January 21, 1882; Goddard, Kan., principal Jim McGee, killed on January 21, 1985; teacher Dave Sanders, killed during the Columbine, Colo., massacre on April 20, 1999; Dr Vicki Kaspar, assistant principal at Millard South High School in Omaha, Neb., killed on January 5, 2011, when a gunman opened fire in the school’s main office; and Charles Albert Poland, Jr, killed on January 29, 2013, protecting students from a gunman on the bus he drove for Dale County Schools in Alabama.

Extra room will be left on the face of the memorial to allow additional names to be added in the future.

An illustration of the memorial also shows a pair of oversized apples, with benches extended from one side of each apple. The monument is expected to be completed and unveiled by August.

For the annual Teachers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on June 14, Dr Brooker also incorporated 12/14 into his speech. Friday’s talk was called “Remembering Fallen Educators.” His remarks were coupled with “a beautiful greeting,” he said, from First Selectman Pat Llodra. Mrs Llodra sent a note of thanks for the members of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, on behalf of Newtown, to be read by Dr Brooker. 

 

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