School community loses talented chemistry teacher

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On Thursday, Oct. 13, when chemistry teacher John Thomas was found dead at the young age of 28, the administration was faced with the difficult task of breaking the news to students and staff, and with offering grief counseling
“It was very sad for all of us,” Principal Clarence Burton said. “I was immediately in contact with Frank Finn, the assistant superintendent. He contacted experts and followed their advice. We brought in mental health professionals to help the students when they needed it. We really wanted to help people as much as we could.”
Senior Anna Hiner had Thomas for two years for chemistry and AP chemistry.
“Mr. Thomas was easily one of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” Hiner said. “He was really honest with his students. If someone was [struggling] at something, he would tell them that, but then work with them to fix the problem. If I didn’t understand something, I knew I was always welcome to come to him for extra help. Mr. Thomas made every student feel like they were his favorite student.”
Senior Peyton Evans also had Thomas for several classes, including chemistry, AP chemistry, and a chemistry independent study.
“Mr. Thomas was the type of teacher that you knew was so passionate in what they do. He did everything he could to make sure his students loved coming to class. From good music to fun extra credit trivia, chemistry was always a fun place to be,” Evans said. “He was understanding and would always tell you like it was. He had so much faith in each and every one of his student’s success. In the end, we all started believing in ourselves and in chemistry, too, even if the comical complaints ensued well into AP.”
Thomas had a personality that resonated with students.
“Mr. Thomas was a great person to just talk to,” Hiner said. “He was really sarcastic and funny. We could talk to him about anything, whether it was chemistry-related or not. I think that not just me, but other students, as well, feel like they’ve not only lost a great teacher, but a friend. I feel a little selfish because I know that I won’t be able to have him as a teacher anymore, and that really bothers me.”
Evans enjoyed Thomas’s sense of humor.
“He was lighthearted, motivated, and a complete jokester. He was always motivating me to do more in chemistry and pushed me to to pursue higher studies in a field I already loved,” Evans said. “That’s one of the things I’ll miss most about him, that and him making fun of me being a nerd, even though he’s just as much of one. I’ll miss his music and trading playlists with him at the start of every week.”
Losing Thomas so unexpectedly has made it difficult for students to accept, and the reality still not sunk in for some.
“I mentally couldn’t grasp what happened. I cried all weekend, and I see him in everything I do,” senior Lexi Boone said. “Losing a teacher so unexpectedly is something that I never want to experience again or want anyone else to experience. I’ve seen him and talked to him everyday for two years, and now it’s gone and I don’t know how to feel about it. It’s like he’s not dead, but just gone on vacation or something.”
Evans also had a hard time coming to grips with the loss of Thomas.
“When I first heard the news, I was speechless,” Evans said. “There’s still a part of me that’s holding on and saying that he’ll be back in class next week, laughing. All I have left is his memory and my motivation to make him proud.”
If students are still experiencing grief or are having a hard time coping with the loss, the administration stresses the importance of getting help.
“The best thing you can do is talk to somebody, especially an adult [like a] teacher or a parent. Everyone handles grief in different ways, and we want to be there to help people and put them in contact with those who can help them,” Burton said.
In memory of Thomas, students painted the rock in the courtyard after school on Oct. 17, a tradition that has been in the school for decades.
“We painted the rock as a tribute to Mr. Thomas,” Boone said. “The rock has always been something students use to get a message out to the school, and I thought that everyone should have a glimpse of the life he lived, whether they had a chance to meet him or not. He was such an amazing person, and he deserved to be remembered in a remarkable way. Naturally, painting the rock with everything he loved and stood for was something we really wanted to do.”
Evans believes that Thomas instilled a sense of school pride that all students should follow.
“Mr. Thomas had more support for his students and fellow teachers than I have seen in most people. He was always there to give extra help in a tough chapter or go see his students play soccer at Kettle Run. He would even be the first to volunteer to supervise theatre rehearsals,” Evans said. “I believe that it’s important to learn something from this and come together as a school to keep up that support for our classmates. Go to those band concerts, those soccer games, those musicals, those poetry readings more [often]. Support who you go to school with. It’s what he would have loved to see.”
~emma dixon, copy production editor