Guest Blogger: Beth Rowland, one of Michelle’s Chorus Teachers

As many of you already know, Michelle adored singing, dancing, and acting. So it was no surprise at HMS when she took Chorus as many times as she was eligible to. Michelle loved having Mrs. Rowland for a teacher and All State Choir coach. Here’s her story.

Beth writes: In my seventeen years of teaching at Highlands Middle School, I always told my students that I had yet to encounter a student who had the same birthday as mine. But in Michelle’s 8th grade year, there were three—all boys—who shared the same birthday as me, one of them in Michelle’s class. I never have the occasion to wish those students a happy birthday on our birthday because we are never in school. Last year, on August 2nd, as we stood in the HHS gym remembering and mourning Michelle, and still reeling from the shock of her passing, I saw one of those students and remember quietly saying, “Happy Birthday” as we exchanged a brief hug in the school gym. It’s hard to believe that was almost a year ago.

This year I’m turning 40. (I can’t believe I just announced it publicly!). As a person who believes in signs–whispers from God or an elaborate inter-connection with the universe– I take the fact that Michelle passed the day before my birthday as a new yearly reminder of what I need to keep in mind. August 1st will mark a year without Michelle. I will think of that every year from now on. But in order to honor her and to celebrate her life, it also marks another year that I have been blessed to spend with family and friends, another year to work with and connect with my students, another year to enjoy all the beauty that this world has to offer, and another year to live free like Michelle, knowing that tomorrow is never promised.

We teachers care deeply about our students—it’s cliché, but it is true. Sometimes we take it for granted as we get bogged down with the day in and day out demands of the job and, like with any relationship in life, we sometimes we aren’t the best at showing how much we care. When Michelle passed last year, we teachers felt deeply how much we do care and how we are affected by the students we have the privilege of teaching. It felt like the loss of a family member for me, maybe because of the time I had spent with Michelle, maybe because we were bonded through music, or maybe because of the time I worked with Michelle outside of class as well. Behind the scenes, many tears were shed as we teachers were mourning. The realization that we had lost one of our own—a member of our HMS flock—affected us deeply. Because of Michelle, many teachers vowed to start new initiatives, reach out to students more, get to know the students better, and more. It’s what I like to call the ripple effect.

It once was said that you bond to people you sing with, and it’s true. You don’t always know it, but you can feel it when it’s happening. Michelle was always there in the middle of the group, loving every moment of creating music and just feeling it. I remember the choir singing the song “Geronimo” (I think of her every time I hear it). When I first passed out the music I heard her say with a gasp, “I LOVE this song!” And she would be bopping along to the music every time we rehearsed and performed it. There were times throughout the school year last year—the first without her—where I swear I could see her sitting in her chair in the choir risers out of the corner of my eye—only to look and see an empty seat. But at times I felt that she was there. On the first day of one of my 6th grade choir classes last year, a female student new to the school and to the choir, chose to sit in the seat that happened to be in the spot where Michelle sat, and as we went around the room and introduced ourselves she said, “Hi, my name is Michelle!” It took me a moment to catch my breath because what are the chances?, but then a smile came across my face as I said, “Welcome, Michelle.” As the new school year is approaching, I look forward to the new “Michelles” I will encounter in my classroom and I also look forward to seeing how Michelle makes her presence known as she helps us usher in the new school year. She is deeply missed but very present. We have our very own choir angel.

 

 

I don’t think Beth would mind that I’m sharing a video from Michelle in 8th grade Chorus with Jacob Young. I had trouble locating one from 6th or 7th.

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