Students at St. Joseph school mourn for classmates killed in Ethiopian Airline crash

As students returned from March Break, the school was ready to support those mourning their fellow students tragic death.Ryan Njuguna, 7, and Kellie Pauls, 4, were both killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Ryan Njuguna, 7, and Kellie Pauls, 4, were both students at the Hamilton school

St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton had counsellors on hand and a memorial set up as students returned from March break. (Colin Cote-Paulette/CBC)

Student returning to St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton came back to classes Monday without two of their classmates. In their place was a memorial with a bouquet of flowers and a pair of school pictures showing their smiling faces.

Seven-year-old Ryan Njuguna and his sister Kellie  Pauls, 4, died, along with their mother, grandmother and seven-month-old sister Rubi, in the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

It helps us celebrate the lives, the goodness of what they brought.- Diane Ing,  Principal 

The devastating loss of the Hamilton family was marked during a ceremony at city hall over the weekend, but as students returned to school after March Break, staff and support workers met them with a more private memorial.

A simple memorial, with photos of the family, was set up in the library.

Throughout the day some teachers brought their classes by for a moment of silence, to write messages of love or to share memories about the two, lively students who principal Diane Ing said brought life to the school.

Kalyah Rihann, one of the students remembering fellow student Ryan Njuguna, killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. (Colin Cote-Paulette/ CBC)

"Kellie was effervescent. The whole world would just light up in her presence. She really loved stickers," she explained.

"Ryan would be quick to share with us about any soccer games he had played in."

Eleven-year-old Ema Wills said she was a lunch monitor for Ryan.

"He was such a sweet kid and he always shared stories about everything and he was super happy all the time," she remembered.

Kaliyah Smiarowski-King, 11, echoed those memories, saying Ryan was her reading buddy.

"They gave off this happiness and it made me happy."

Rosa Coldwell said Ryan used to hug her every time they went to class, calling him a "kind and sweet" kid.

"It's pretty devastating. When I found out 157 people died, it sounded terrible. Then I realized we knew people there and it was different."

The memorial at St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton where Ryan Njuguna and Kellie Pauls were students. (Colin Cote-Paulette/CBC)

For many students, the death of their classmates is the first loss they've personally experienced. Ing said counsellors are at the school and on call to help the children begin to understand the deaths by relating them to the passing of a grandparent or pet.

The principal explained the school was in contact with families over the break to make sure they knew what had happened and that proper supports would be in place when it came time to head back.

That preparation was important, she explained.

"The children came with a bit of an understanding of what to expect for today," Ing said, noting the tears and grieving for many staff members —including herself —had already begun during the gathering at city hall.

"It's perfectly OK that we share our tears with our students. They have to see that we have that emotional quality about us."

Tina Fricano, the Grade 1 French immersion teacher at the school taught Ryan and said the day was emotional and full of sharing among students.

"They were able to share some of the things they loved about Ryan and what Ryan was good at. Things they played together with."

Celebrate goodness

She hopes to discuss setting up some kind of a memorial with her class in the coming days and suggested Ryan's desk could be set aside with his photo so his fellows students can remember him.

Still, Ing said Monday's vigil isn't all about sadness.

"It helps us celebrate the lives, the goodness of what they brought. It doesn't end with their deaths. It continues and that's what we hold dear in our hearts and our thoughts."

That's a feeling Alana Tshibwabwa, another of Ryan and Kellie's classmates said she shares.

"I feel good that we're representing them, but I feel really sad that they left and I hope I can see them when I go up in heaven with them."

with files from Colin Côté-Paulette


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