Commemorating a hard year with healingPublished 12:42pm Saturday, June 14, 2014
FRANKLIN—The seventh-grade class at J.P. King Middle School started off this year with a terrible loss when classmate Tonashea Sledge died in a traffic accident. At the end of the school year they wanted to do something to help with the healing process.
This started out as an environmental project by teacher Mollie Strozier, who wanted the class to plant a tree to teach the importance of taking care of the earth and what Going Green is about. The staff also wanted it to symbolize their commitment to the earth. The students bought in and they also wanted the tree to mean something more.
“One student said, ‘Why don’t we plant a tree in the memory of Tonashea?’ And from there the whole class really got behind it,” said Principal Lisa Francis. “We wanted something here that would always remind us of her.”
The tree, a crape myrtle — which symbolizes love and purity — means a lot to the students.
“They will always have a piece of her here, and we will always as well, as teachers,” Francis said. “They are just great students with great big hearts who wanted to do something in her memory.”
She said it’s been a tough year, as the death of Sledge happened on Oct. 26, which was pretty early in the school year.
“They have had their ups and downs all year,” she said. “But the students remembered her all year. Her seat in the cafeteria was kept empty, as no student sat in it. That was her seat. In the classes she attended, her chair was always off to the side.”
It was tough, but the students came together as best they could, said Francis.
“They have really all come together and supported each other,” she said. “I think this tragedy has made them come together as a family. It’s really impacted their lives.”
They also dedicated the yearbook to her. It’s the first yearbook they have been able to put out in a few years, and Sledge’s mom was on hand for the ceremony.
“It was a surprise,” Francis said. “We brought the seventh grade in, Tonashea’s mom and her teachers, and none of them knew. They were all very emotional about it. But they were also kind of humbled and appreciative.”
On June 13, the last day of school, the seventh grade came out to support this before they went home for the summer. The school also has plans to buy a marker with her name on it that they can place by the tree.
“The students really wanted to do something to remember Tonashea and her special legacy,” Francis said. “We all love Tonashea and we miss her like crazy.”