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Tree Planting and Tribute to GBE Student, Sender

GBE remembers student killed on Christmas Eve.

Sender Ivann Salguero Mencia may be gone, but he will never be forgotten by those who loved him — or by his classmates at Greenbriar East Elementary.

AND LAST FRIDAY, they honored him with a special, Arbor Day tribute and dedicated trees they'd planted in his memory in a courtyard off the school library.

Said PTA President Judith McClimans: "We are truly blessed to have had Sender in our lives."

Sender, 8, a cheerful GBE third-grader, lived with his parents and brother Christian, 11, a sixth-grader, in Greenbriar. But on Christmas Eve 2006, Sender was struck by a car on Route 50 east in Fair Oaks and died just after midnight.

The afternoon of Dec. 24, the boys had decided to visit their paternal grandparents in the Townes of Greenbriar community. But unbeknownst to their family, they and two other boys played basketball at a church across Route 50 from their grandparents' house.

Later, while crossing the highway around 5:45 p.m. to return there, said his father, Sender Salguero, "Sender got hungry and was in a rush to get to his grandparents' to go eat at McDonald's — his favorite place." But he never made it.

Fairfax County police said the child was trying to cross Route 50's eastbound lanes near Middle Ridge Drive. He and the other boys had crossed the westbound lanes during a red light.

But when the light turned green, police said three of the boys stopped in the median, but Sender kept going and was hit by a Ford Mustang driven by a man from Burke. Sender died early Christmas morning.

Since then, it's been difficult for his family to cope with his loss. "It's not easy," said his father last week. "It seems like the longer time passes, it hurts more. In the beginning, you think you'll see him again. And after a few months, you realize it was real."

LAST FRIDAY, April 27, GBE students in grades three and sixth gathered in the school gym for a special tribute to Sender, and his parents and brother were the guests of honor. And SCA officers Monica Scholberg, president, plus Catherine LaPlaca, Jae Cho, Hayley Merchant and Sierra Cuellar, told the history of Arbor Day.

"Beautiful trees have been planted in our courtyard, and it is in the spirit of this Arbor Day tribute that we dedicate these trees to Sender," said Principal Linda Cohen. "We're also dedicating a bench and stepping stones in his honor."

Chris Wilson of the SACC staff said the school hopes "this peaceful garden will invite many to linger." Cohen thanked the anonymous donor who provided the money to purchase two, weeping cherry trees from Merrifield Garden Center and "the many parents who dug and planted the trees," the night before.

GBE Choral Festival students Alvina Briggs, Lizzy Cotter, Sarah Dowdy, Paulin Kim, Elvera Santos and Carly Voeller sang the song, "Douglas Mountain," about cedar trees growing so high that they joined earth to sky. Sixth-graders Claire Callahan, Veronica Bonilla, Goeun Choi and Sharon Lu each read a related poem, and then Sender's third-grade classmates sang, "Trees."

The courtyard where the trees are planted is beside the school library, so students will be able to read outside there in nice weather. Even at night, said Cohen, "The lighting on the walls makes it an illuminated spot."

The bench is between the two trees and will eventually be adorned with a plate engraved with Sender's name. Large, flat stones decorated with mosaics of a schoolhouse are in front of it, and students plan to paint butterflies on other large stones there.

COHEN ALSO noted that a Boy Scout doing his Eagle project will add flower boxes to that area and will build a path leading from the library, winding through the garden and joining the walkway by the gym. Said Cohen: "The intent is to have a beautiful flower garden here."

Seeing the trees and bench, Sender's dad said, "This is very nice. Someday, we can come back and just sit on the bench and meditate." He appreciated the school's efforts and said Friday's event "really helped my healing, knowing how much people cared about my son and love him."

Indeed, as the ceremony ended, Cohen told Sender's parents: "We hope the trees that are planted today grow deep roots and beautiful flowers to signify Sender's time spent at Greenbriar East. For years to come, the beauty of these trees will remind us — and all who sit on the bench to contemplate — of this beautiful student who was with us for too short of a time."