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Rocky Plains students honor classmate after tragic death

Students at Rocky Plains Elementary school remembered one of their former classmates by planting a tree and releasing balloons in her memory.

Fourth-grader Aniya Jackson died unexpectedly Feb. 3 after a brain aneurism. Jackson, who administrators and teachers described as a sweet and caring little girl, was a Quest student and participated in Girl Scouts of America. Her friends and family said she was a student who never wanted to be late for school and whose smile could light up a room.

"We were stunned," said Miranda Jones, principal of Rocky Plains Elementary. "She was so full of life, so gifted and talented. It’s just such a tragic loss. We are supporting her family the best we know how. We are all family at Rocky Plains and we will get through this as a family."

Though the loss of a classmate and student was heart-breaking for the school, the Cougars gathered balloons in Aniya’s favorite colors — purple and green — and released them on her birthday, Feb. 27, to celebrate her life. In addition, students, along with Aniya’s family, planted a tree at the school in her memory a few days later.

During the tree-planting ceremony, Aniya’s parents, Brenda and Peter Grier, other family members and students each took a turn shoveling dirt to help plant the tree, which was a pink dogwood tree donated by the Covington Home Depot.

"We hope this in some way helps her family," said Steven Hobson, assistant manager of the Home Depot, in Covington. "We at Home Depot are honored to donate a tree in her memory."

"We appreciate the manager at Home Depot for picking this tree for Aniya. I know it will be a beautiful tree and we are so honored that they thought of her," said Aniya’s mom, Brenda.

"She touched every teacher and she considered every child her best friend," Brenda said. "She was just so full of love. She was truly an angel."

Her father, Peter Grier, said, "We’re just amazed by the support the school has given our family —everything from bringing us food to planting this tree in her honor. The support they have given us has gotten us through this. It would have been so hard without them."

In addition to the tree, Jones said that a bench has also been donated in Aniya’s honor. It will be placed near Aniya’s tree on the fourth-grade playground.

"It was important for us to have a permanent reminder of Aniya," said Jones. "She was a student at Rocky Plains from kindergarten on and with this tree her spirit will always be a part of us. She may be gone, but she will never be forgotten."

"Aniya was amazing. She loved to learn and she was just so good to everybody," said Dr. Natalie Ochs, Aniya’s teacher in third grade. "That’s why it’s been so important to us to help the student’s transition through this. At this age it’s so hard for them to wrap their head around the fact that she’s not coming back.