James Monroe High School students stood in the school commons for 15 minutes of silence Tuesday morning to pay respects to a classmate who died Monday after collapsing in gym class.
“That’s something that the students planned and the administration supported,” said JM Principal Taneshia H. Rachal. “It was a quiet time, very reflective time, and then I shared some words with those in attendance at the end.”
She described the student, whose name is being withheld at the request of his family, as one of the most respectful students she’d encountered.
“He always had a kind word, would say ‘good morning’ and was helpful in class and with administration. If we needed him, he’d volunteer to step in. If some of his friends were cutting up, he’d say, ‘I got it. I got it.’ No one has ever said anything bad about him. Just a great kid,” Rachal said, and then gave a sad sigh.
The student, who was a sophomore, had been playing basketball when he collapsed. School personnel, including the school nurse, responded “immediately,” and the Fredericksburg Rescue Squad was called, Rachal said. He was taken by ambulance to Mary Washington Hospital.
“It’s the first student that we’ve lost in as long as anyone here can recollect,” Rachal said. “We’ve lost students who have graduated, of course, but this is the first time that our school community has been affected by the loss of a current student at the high school.”
At least 10 counselors were at the Fredericksburg high school Tuesday, primarily to help grieving students, while three members of the Fredericksburg Police Department’s peer support team were on hand to help staff.
“We had counselors available in each of the four classes that the student would have attended today to provide additional support to the class and the teacher,” Rachal said.
King George High School had a similar response after one of its students, Anthony “A.J.” Gibson, fell backward from the bench and died during a basketball game with Brooke Point High School in Stafford County last December.
Rachal said that a group of JM students are interested in planning additional opportunities to support the JM student’s family and reflect on the loss of their friend. They may include a candlelight vigil off campus in the next few days.
“We just ask for the community to keep the family and the James Monroe High School community in their thoughts and prayers in this difficult time,” Rachal said. “This is a difficult time we’ve never seen before.”