Homecoming- how two tragedies united a year group beyond classroom walls.

My return to Britain at Christmas was filled with the usual family and friends gatherings, but this year was filled with a sense of sadness; I felt compelled to meet with some of my ex-pupils to share in the tragedies that had begotten the passing year.

In 2013, on the 5th February and 5th June, my year group lost two of their peers. They both tragically passed away within months of each other. I was deeply saddened by both, the sense of shock and bewilderment that we could lose two in the shortness of time was unbearable. And I was so far away that I could use only words to comfort them. The two students, Philip and Jamie-Leigh, were both amazing examples of young people and in their passing, left legacies which shone a light upon their friendships and the amazing abilities of young people to comfort, rally and unite in their grief.

Social media had provided me with the news of both tragedies- when I tweeted news of my homecoming, some students messaged privately to ask if I could meet up with them. I secretly looked forward to meeting some of the characters that had induced workloads and laughter in my role as their Head of Year.

I was astounded by how mature and grown-up they were and I was touched by the number who showed up to the coffee shop where I said I would be. I felt so proud to have been a small part of their amazing journey through the first four years of their secondary school. We swapped stories, I let them in on a few secrets and we laughed. I also cried for the tales of Jamie-Leigh and Philip. It was so hard to hear the individual stories of how it affected them, it hurt to know they were in pain but the swell of pride in the ways they have fundraised for both causes, the way they have rallied each other for support, the way they still managed to collect an impressive array of GCSEs and find their way into colleges and sixth forms counteracted the grief with smiles.

I visited both graves. Quiet reflection. Sadness at the loss of two beautiful stars with their futures clipped no further than their 16 years. But what a legacy they have left. Their passing has taught an array of young people from different backgrounds to be strong, to unite and to share in their successes and failures. I was amazed by the collective strength and bond that was evident among the group, a bond that they will share for a long, long time. There are no words to describe how wonderful that afternoon was for me, as their teacher but also as a human. I witnessed something very powerful and although beyond words, I hope I convey my feelings of pride, sadness, laughter and grief all collected and rolled out into feelings of anticipation and excitement for these future grown-ups.

Jamie-Leigh and Philip’s legacy is what we do next, how we live our lives to the fullest, how we make the most of every moment not just because of the unknown but almost in spite of it.

Thank you to all my ex-students who came to say hello, you will never know how much that touched me. I think you are all amazing and I am so looking forward to the future. Your futures.

Rest in Peace Jamie-Leigh and Philip, all my love to you. x


About milkwithtwo

A blog about my experience as a Head of Year, looking at some of the issues faced by young people and teachers in the UK. Offering straight-talking child-centred advice with a little slice of my international teaching experience. Best served with tea.
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