Remembering Maliyah: How Orchard Middle Dealt With a Tragic Loss

Since the tragic death of student Maliyah Jones, Orchard Middle School students have coped through creativity

It was a grim day in April, and Michael Acomb had a difficult job to do.

The Solon School district had learned that Maliyah Jones, a popular student at Orchard Middle School, had in West Virginia.

How do you explain to a school of 10- to 12-year-olds that their classmate -- a popular girl with giving streak and infectious smile -- would not be coming back?

Acomb visited each classroom and talked to the students about what had happened. Acomb started by talking with the students who were in Maliyah's team.

"It's not easy to break that kind of news to kids," Acomb said. "You have to deliver it to them in a simple way. Then you let the emotion come."

The school's support staff was mobilized to help the students deal with the grief. But just as important was allowing the students to express grief in their own way.

And there may be no better way to do that than with a blank sheet of construction paper.

Acomb said each student wrote a memory or a note to Maliyah on a slip of paper, and then they linked them together in a "memory chain" wrapping around the hallway.

"I love and miss you so much," wrote one student.

In the cafeteria, students and staff built a bulletin-board shrine to Maliyah, featuring notes from friends and classmates and numerous Justin Bieber posters -- Maliyah was a big fan. Many students wrote "Mrs. Bieber" next to a picture of Maliyah.

"Maliyah was an extremely popular student," Acomb said. "She was a great kid that had this sort of contagious smile."

Acomb said people often describe Maliyah as a "humanitarian." Once, she was written up on the bus because she was selling candy. The reason? She wanted to donate the money to charity.

"This was a really tragic loss for it to happen to someone who is really as special a person as she was," Acomb said.

School life moves on. This week, students are fully engaged in state acheivement tests, and the cafeteria bustled with fidgety and loud middle schoolers.

Acomb said it's been a difficult couple of weeks, but the school has moved back into its routine. He credits his teachers and support staff for their role in helping the students deal with the loss.

"A lot of the credit goes to the teachers and counselors helping the kids have this kind of outlet to deal with their emotions," Acomb said. "The primary focus was on the students, and it's not easy for a classroom teacher to be in this kind of circumstance and deal with their emotions."

Acomb said the Orchard Middle School family will soon come up with a way to permanently memorialize Maliyah Jones. 

Tammy Strom, a schools spokeswoman, said it's important for the schools to find a way to memorialize Maliyah.

"It's really terrible and tragic when you lose a student," she said. "Everybody feels that for a long time."


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