Some three dozen special-education students and teachers gathered Monday morning outside Poplar Tree Elementary to plant a Virginia Dogwood.
The young sapling is now growing in front of the school in memory of another special-ed student, a second-grader named Rebecca, who died in March at age 8.
She had severe disabilities caused by a degenerative illness and was in a self-contained class of six children total. And she was warmly welcomed when she came to the school in September 2006.
"SHE WAS a big part of her class and a good friend to her classmates," said her teacher Amanda Moore. "She was also well-liked by her fifth-grade peer buddies, teachers and staff."
During the past winter, though, said Moore, "Her health started to decline and she passed away in March." Rebecca's brother Joshua, a kindergartner who has the same condition she did, also attended Poplar Tree. But after his sister's death, the family eventually moved away and he now attends another Fairfax County school.
However, Poplar Tree decided to plant a tree in remembrance of Rebecca, and her classmates made beautiful invitations to the event for the staff. The children stenciled a brown, tree trunk and glued green-tissue leaves on each invitation.
"We're here to remember our friend, Rebecca," said Moore at the start of Monday's ceremony. "She started at Poplar Tree last fall and, even though she was here for such a short time, she made a big impression on us. And years from now, when people see this tree, they can look back and remember our dear friend, Rebecca."
Then, one by one, each student took turns placing small shovelfuls of dirt around the base of the already-planted dogwood. Teachers tucked in the dirt closely, in a circle, and then added mulch.
Sadly, another dogwood tree planted in memory of another special-ed child stands about five feet away. That one was planted two years ago in remembrance of a Poplar Tree student named Michelle, 10 1/2, who died suddenly on Nov. 25, 2004.
And now that there's a pair of trees in Poplar Tree's front yard, the school administration has placed a "friendship bench" between them.