ShareThis Page

Deaths shake Cornell 'family'

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, Aug. 26, 2004

The question went out over the elementary school loudspeaker: "Why are you here today?"

And the children responded together: "We are here to learn!"

The routine of the Cornell School District's first day of classes Wednesday might have helped students and staff alike deal with the recent deaths of Erin Schmidt, 10, and two other people with ties to the small, close-knit district. The Cornell Education Center, serving the communities of Coraopolis and Neville Island, serves 750 students in grades K-12.

"The kids seem to welcome that structure of the classroom and being with their teachers," said Katy Jenkins, president of the Parent-Teacher Committee, whose daughter, Marissa, 7, is in second grade.

"She understands Erin is no longer with us and it was a tragic accident," Jenkins said. "You only say so much and let them understand. She'll learn as she goes."

Cornell is closed today so that students and staff may attend Erin Schmidt's funeral. The Coraopolis girl died Friday, a day after being hit in the head by the nozzle of a fire hose that unraveled from a passing fire truck.

A second girl hit by the hose, Joey Jeffress, 10, was released Tuesday from Children's Hospital, Oakland.

Both girls were to start fifth grade this year. Jeffress is expected to be out of school for at least six months, said Superintendent D.J. Johnson.

Fifth-grade teacher Amy Santoriello also was absent yesterday after attending her brother's burial Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Her brother, Army 1st Lt. Neil Anthony Santoriello, 24, of Penn Hills, was killed by a roadside bomb Aug. 13 in Iraq.

Former Cornell student Paul D. Early, 18, was shot and killed in Beaver Falls last week.

Students also were missing Erin's mother, Joyce Schmidt, who was a classroom aide, Jenkins said.

"There's a lot of sadness in our school and our community, and we're leaning on each other for support and getting through this together," Johnson said.

Students cried in the morning, but settled down when they got into class, said Dian Perkins, a social worker from the Staunton Clinic at Sewickley Valley Hospital, among counselors on hand yesterday.

"They're here for each other," Perkins said. "When they talk about the Cornell 'family,' it sounds hokey, but it's true. They are family."

Children about 10 years old coping with the death of a friend or loved one might ask inappropriate questions, said John Oster, a student assistance program coordinator with the Community College of Beaver County Prevention Project.

"They want to know some of the gruesome details. You want to focus on their feelings rather than the details of things," said Oster, who was at Cornell yesterday.

Jenkins said the Parent-Teacher Committee is planning to put up a tree and plaque in Erin's memory. District employees also are planning a memorial, Johnson said.

Counselors will be back at the school when classes resume Friday, and officials will decide if they're needed next week.

"This kind of a violent and quick death rocks your idea of security and stability," Perkins said. "Drop what you're doing, sit down and talk with your kids, and let them know you are there for them."

Dealing with death

Behaviors frequently seen in children coping with the death of a friend or loved one:

  • Anger or belligerence

  • Stuttering

  • Withdrawal

  • Won't play with friends

  • Decline in school performance

  • Destructive behavior

  • Unable to express self

  • Daydreaming

  • Physical illness

  • Attention seeking

  • Fear of abandonment

  • Don't feel safe anymore

    box-source: Community College of Beaver County Prevention Project Additional Information:

    For help

    Parents seeking help for their children should contact the Cornell School District guidance office at (412) 264-5010.

  • TribLIVE commenting policy

    You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

    We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

    While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

    We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

    We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

    We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

    We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

    We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

    click me