Comfort corner at Hempfield’s Stanwood Elementary to honor mother, son killed in 2016 shooting
Nestled between the main office and the guidance counselor’s office at Stanwood Elementary School sits the Caleb & Dana Remaley Comfort Corner, a tribute to the mother and son who were killed just over two years ago.
The room is filled with sensory toys such as a play therapy sandbox and magnetic sand. A weighted blanket is draped over a small rocking chair and bins of art supplies, foam balls and toys line the wall.
“Follow your heart,” “Be the best version of you” and “Positive vibes only” sentiments hang on the wall, while the sound of crickets chirping echoes in the background and an oil diffuser sends scented mist into the air.
“It’s space for kids to just be,” guidance counselor Sarah Taylor said. “They don’t have to be convinced to change or talk about what’s going on, but they can just be comforted and use materials.”
The goal of the room, third-grade teacher Jill Prosdocimo said, is to start talking about mental health at an early age, while honoring Caleb and Dana Remaley, who were shot and killed in their New Stanton home in 2016 by Caleb’s brother Jacob.
“We kind of felt like, what a tribute, because mental illness is kind of what took them from this world,” Prosdocimo said. “Now we’re supporting kids at a much earlier age with that.”
Jacob Remaley, 16, admitted to killing his brother and mother in their home after his father left for work in November 2016. According to police, Jacob Remaley retrieved a gun from the top of the refrigerator and shot his mother who was asleep. He then went to his brother’s room and shot him, police said.
Jacob Remaley, who was 14 at the time, was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree homicide. The defense previously argued the teen suffers from mental illness and was under the influence of a dominant personality that told him to commit the murders.
“It’s hard to convey how difficult the year was losing Caleb,” Prosdocimo said. “His dear, sweet friends were also just 8 years old, and struggled much of the year. We did all manage to smile again and still have such a close relationship. His class is our current fifth grade class and will head to middle school next year. It was so very important to me to give them this before they left Stanwood. I will forever watch out for those kids.”
The comfort corner
After the incident occurred, Prosdocimo was asked one question by Christa Griffith, treasurer for the school’s Caring Parents and Teacher group: “In that moment, what would have helped you as a teacher get everybody through that?”
Weeding through several ideas like donating books to the library or creating an event in their honor, Prosdocimo landed on the comfort corner, a space that will continually help students moving forward.
“I wanted a space for kids that are dealing with any sort of emotional (problems), not even just our extreme heavy hitters, but if someone’s dog dies or Aunt Susie finds out she has cancer,” Prosdocimo said. “Some place that everybody could access for any sort of mental, emotional need.”
Kids who are idly playing with something, like a foam ball, are more likely to talk about what’s on their minds, making conversations easy and beneficial, Stanwood Elementary School Principal John Behrendt said.
And students are interested in the comfort corner, with three kids using it the first day it was available. Taylor said every time she walks a student to her office, they stop and ask about the room, some wanting to bring friends there to spend time.
While the room is still in its early stages, Prosdocimo said she hopes it will become a place where kids can go as a reward.
“It doesn’t have to always be sadness and gloom and doom, it can kind of be just a comfortable place that we’re using so that all teachers have access to it,” Prosdocimo said. “You don’t necessarily have to have a kid on the emotional rocks to utilize the room.”
Prosdocimo has more plans for the near future. To honor Dana Remaley, 46, who was always helping out at school functions, planters will be placed in the school near the courtyard. An engraved statue of a boy reading will be placed in the school’s library in honor of Caleb, who loved to read.
“We’re doing what Caleb would do and what Dana would do,” Behrendt said. “To comfort kids moving forward. To see this ongoing for the future.”
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .