Flint Hill Elementary School students, faculty and community residents walked a newly paved running and walking track in silence Friday afternoon in memory of Jonah Barnett, a former student who died last year after a nearly lifelong battle with brain cancer.
Jonah’s parents, Patrick and Lynice Barnett; his siblings, sister Anna and brothers Austin and Carson; and other relatives helped dedicate the school’s new track to Jonah during a ceremony at the school. The ceremony was originally scheduled for Jan. 7, which would have been Jonah’s 12th birthday, but was rescheduled due to weather conditions.
Jon Krieger, the FHES physical education teacher and organizer for the ceremony, told those in attendance that the new track served two purposes : "closure to everything, but at the same time it brings awareness to cancer and childhood cancer," Krieger said.
Krieger said Jonah was part of the Flint Hill family. He told students that it was always hard and sad to say goodbye, but said, "There are ways to help make us feel better during the healing process."
Krieger said raising awareness about cancer is important to students, faculty and staff at the elementary school, as several teachers are battling the disease, and others connected to the school have family members fighting cancer as well. He said, "We would love to see all cancers eradicated one day."
Family members, teachers and friends said Jonah’s journey touched many lives as he strove to live life to the fullest. Diagnosed with a brain tumor at 13 months old, he battled cancer for more than 10 years after doctors said he had a month to live.
Cancer destroyed Jonah’s ability to speak and walk, but he learned to communicate through sign language and technology. Family said Jonah loved education, always wanting to be at school to learn and be with friends.
He received his wish to graduate fifth grade at Flint Hill Elementary in late 2012 at a special ceremony and then moved on to Cousins Middle School, where, in February 2013, he was welcomed at a special pep rally.
He also served as an honorary grand marshal for the April 2013 Special Olympics and walked for St. Jude’s Hospital, helping to raise awareness to childhood cancer.
Kelly Walker, an FHES assistant principal and Jonah’s former speech therapist, said Jodnah had a great spirit.
"He wanted to be at school to learn. He wanted to be with friends. As sick as he was, this is where he wanted to be. He was a pretty awesome kid," Walker said.
FHES principal Loris Thomas said Jonah was an amazing inspiration to all of the school’s students. She said, "There’s a sadness knowing he’s gone, but this (the track) is something to remember him by."
Jonah’s dad Patrick said the dedication ceremony was a reflection of the care and compassion at Flint Hill, in the Newton County School System, and in city of Covington and surrounding community.
"We’re blessed to have the love and support from this community in the four and a half years we’ve been here," he said. "My hope is for these students to feel the same way Jonah did about education."