Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Losing a Student to Tragedy




Caring about the education of each child who walks into the classroom should be a given for every teacher, but what about students? Should it be expected that each child who enters the classroom cares about the education of every other child in the room?
You know what? Lose the word “expected.” Does this ever happen? Do other teachers encounter students who inherently care about the learning of every other student in the room?

For the first five or six years of my career, I would have easily answered that question with a loud and emphatic no! Students may be willing to help other students, to work in groups, to speak to and disagree respectfully with every other student in the room. But care about their learning? No.

Not, that is, until Parker Archie Moore walked into my ninth-grade Algebra 1 class. At first glance, he looked like the typical alpha male.

 I teach at a junior high with grades 7, 8 and 9. Parker was well known in all three grades, the good-looking, athletic, popular and charismatic kid that girls had crushes on and all athletes looked up to. It seemed he was talented at everything. What I soon learned was that Parker was so much more than talented and could never be defined as anything close to typical. Parker was a special kid.

I first noticed how maturely he carried himself. On the first day of ninth grade, he introduced himself to me and shook my hand, “Mr. Adams, I know we have seen each other around school a lot and joked around in the hallway before, but I wanted to officially introduce myself. I’m Parker.” I laughed and told him to sit down.

Of course, I knew who he was and, of course, he knew me. I first thought he was trying to earn some brownie points with the teacher, or maybe he was an “Eddie Haskell” type student. Boy, was I wrong!

Parker started to distinguish himself as a top student right away. He followed directions to the smallest detail; he listened intently and took notes even when not asked. He ensured the group rules used in my class were being implemented correctly in his group because he trusted me when I said this structure would lead to more learning for him and his classmates.

His work was neat and methodical. He was not afraid to try new things, experiment or admit when he did not know how to solve a problem. But how he interacted with others really set him apart from most students.

With Parker, social circles did not mean much. If he saw someone who did not have a pencil, it did not matter whether they were friends; he would open his binder and give them one of his extra pencils, never expecting to see the pencil again. If someone in his group was confused, he would stop everything to lean over and talk them through whatever they needed. He encouraged others to keep trying because “That’s the only way you are going to learn and get better.” Who is this kid?

One day, I was walking around the room and noticed him writing his number down in another student’s planner. These two were not buddies, did not have the same friends. As a teacher who knows my students fairly well, I knew they were from different worlds. Parker said to him, “If you have trouble tonight, call me. Don’t give up.” Wow.

A similar situation happened later that semester. After class, Parker came up to me and asked if a particular student was attending Want Help Wednesdays, a math help session I held after school for struggling students. I replied no, but I had been trying to encourage him to go. Parker asked, “If I can convince him to stay, can I stay after school, too, and help him? I think he trusts me, and it might help him get over this hump.” Wow.

Parker did persuade him and came to WHW to help him. A few weeks later, Parker again stayed after class to ask me another question, “I seem to be doing pretty well. Do you need some help on Wednesdays after school? Baseball doesn’t start up for another month or two, and I think I could help out while I have the chance.” Wow.

Parker continued to impress me with the generosity of his attention, time, class supplies and smile. His smile was never missing. If he did well on a challenging problem, he smiled. If he struggled, he smiled and took it as an opportunity to get better. If someone in his group struggled, he smiled and offered to help. Parker’s outlook on his life was all about opportunity: the opportunity to learn, play, excel and help others excel.

In discussing the art and philosophy of teaching, I have told colleagues, “I am not here for the ‘A’ students. I am here for the ones who need me most.” I can say with confidence that Parker did not need me to succeed, but I sure needed him. He inspired me to be a better person, teacher and role model.

A few years later, when Parker was a senior in high school, his mom reached out to me about Parker’s college choices. He was debating whether to follow in his sister’s footsteps to Gonzaga or continue his education and football career at Linfield College.
I attended and played football at Linfield, and she wanted my perspective on its size, location, educational quality and the team. This was a no-brainer for me, as Linfield was the best decision I could have made for my college experience. I asked her to send Parker my way.

When Parker came back to my classroom, he filled the room with his smile and greeted me once again with a proper handshake. Only this time, his hand was much bigger and stronger. He sat down and regaled me with stories of his high school classes. The good ones, the tough ones and those he wished he could take again. Not to improve his grade, because he earned an A, but because he felt there was more to learn. Wow.

He asked me if I still had Want Help Wednesdays, and I explained it had expanded into a school-wide program in the library on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now we have teachers from other content areas, and we help everyone with whatever they need. Parker expressed that he wished our school had that when he was here. When I asked why, he said I bet it would have helped a lot of students in my grade. Wow, again.

Soon we moved the conversation to Linfield College. Why did I choose to go there, and what did I like about it? First, the education one receives at Linfield is hard to match. It is consistently ranked as one of the Top Small Colleges in America and Best Bargains for your money. The community around Linfield is centered on learning. The staff-to-student ratio is one of the best on the West Coast, so you can meet with a professor and not a teacher’s assistant.

Second, the location is great. Living outside Seattle, a four-hour drive to Linfield made weekend trips home do-able, but still far enough away that parents can’t drop in unannounced (smile). Plus, McMinnville is 45 minutes from Portland and Lincoln City. So trips to the city or ocean are close enough for quick getaways.

Third, the football team is more than a team; they are family. The goal of the coaches is to make you a better man first, then a better football player. This philosophy is exemplified by coaches who care about their players, their players’ lives and education. Team, Excellence, Attitude and Class.

I summed everything up for Parker by saying Linfield College is full of students like him, students who care about their learning and the learning of those around them, students who excel in the classroom and athletics.

Parker went home to discuss his choices with his family and consider his priorities. A few days later, I received an e-mail from his mom informing me that Parker had called the coaches at Linfield and committed. The next day, Parker came by my class again. We hugged, and I congratulated him on his choice.

This fall was the start of Parker’s second year at Linfield and his second year on the football team. I attended the homecoming game in October, hoping to watch him play. He had yet to crack the starting rotation but was making a splash on special teams.
In a conversation with someone close to the program, I heard coaches were excited to see what Parker could do in his future at Linfield. Later that evening at a restaurant, I ran into Parker and his mom. I gave him a hug and told him how proud I was of him. I asked him if he was happy with his choice to attend Linfield.

“Yes, I have met so many good people, and I am really enjoying it. I’m a little disappointed I’m not starting yet, but that just means I need to work harder.”
This past Saturday, after Linfield had won its sixth straight conference title, Parker entered the 7-Eleven across the street from Linfield a little after 11 p.m. A local man entered the store and stabbed Parker in the chest. Parker died not long after.

I read the news article on my phone Sunday morning. Shock. Disbelief. Sadness. Denial. Anger. Sorrow. Then again. Shock. Denial. Anger. Sorrow. And again.

I called his mom to offer whatever I could, but what could I do? I called Linfield’s coach, too. I cried.

The past couple of days have been a roller coaster of emotions. I had to leave school Monday because I could not handle being in the classroom where Parker demonstrated incredible humanity for his classmates.

I still remember where he sat. I still remember our conversations. It’s hard to be here. It’s hard to think about going to after-school help on Tuesday and Thursday.
I want to go home and try to sort through this terrible act of evil, but I have to get back into the classroom. I have to be there for the kids who need help, because that’s what Parker would do.

14 comments:

  1. Amen.
    Thank-you for your mentoring.
    Linfield '71

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  2. I read about this tragedy, but did not know Parker. Such a loss... Condolences to all.

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  3. Ryan, thanks for writing this, I know it hurts, for some more than others, but it hurts all over the Catdome family. All I can think to do is send prayers and strength to the family.

    Larry

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    \outl0\strokewidth0 \strokec2 Thank you, Ryan, for painting such a clear picture of who Parker was. He sounds like a tremendous person to have known, and it seems you both got a lot out of knowing one another. Wish I could hug you from here. Smiles, Nicole (Robbins) Martin '99}

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  5. Thank you for sharing your story of Parker with us. I'm an RA at Linfield now and I worked with Parker. He truly is an amazing person and has impacted many people's lives. I was lucky to have met him.

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  6. I have a niece who attends Linfield and I am in shock. My prayers go out to Parkers family and the students of Linfield. I credit his parents for raising such a fine young man. And to you Ryan for sharing and being a great mentor to Parker. God must have needed him. God Bless you all.

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  7. I felt bad for the family before reading this. Now I feel bad for everybody he came in touch with. He appeared to be a much sought after person that I thought did not exist anymore. R.I.P. Parker.

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  8. I attended Saturdays game with my 2 young sons, and we had such a fun time. I had forgotten what a special place Linfield was for me. We were so excited for all the guys who played and won on Saturday. I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of the stabbing Sunday morning. Parker sounds like an amazing young man, and my heart goes out to all of his family and friends. S.D. Class of 89

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  9. Thank you all for reading and your kind words of encouragement! I was able to hug Parker's Mom and Dad last night and offer my sympathy. They are comforted by the love that the Linfield and Woodinville communities have shown them. Continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers. May each of them and you find Grace and Peace.

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  10. Ryan, it is amazing who we touch in our lives and the people who touch us. We all shape each other. This is beautifully written. It is good to see an old friend.
    Ann (Case) Flickinger '00

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  11. You nailed him- exactly. With four boys of my own and knowing Parker since he was five, I always hoped my boys would end up shining as much as he did. He was a gift to anyone who knew him and the world is a sadder place without him in it- but the light he left in each of us will continue to shine and hopefully we are better people because we knew him.

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  12. I never knew Paker, I merely live in McMinnville, but was glad to be able to read about what a truly good person he was. He is a positive force.

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  13. Thank you for sharing this story Ryan. Parker is an amazing, shining light.

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  14. What a wonderful tribute to a special young man and for a mentor like yourself. Such a terrible and senseless tragedy

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