I teach AP Language and Composition to juniors at Hume-Fogg, and Elena Zamora was in my class the year she died. My exam was the last class she had that day. I spent the afternoon grading exams, including hers, and I heard the sirens as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene, but these sounds are part of the fabric of the day for those of us who work downtown, and I didn't think it could be anything serious. I left school and learned the devastating news while standing in our parking lot.
When we returned to school after winter break, I, along with Laura Louis and Brett Kmiec, was invited to meet with Keri Jhaveri from the Frist to discuss a way they could help Hume-Fogg students make sense of the loss. Hundreds of students had attended Elena's funeral, but we had had not been together for almost 10 days, and we all still felt lost. Elena had been an integral member of a program called Stop Take Notice! through the educational outreach department at the Frist. Her work was featured in the exhibit, which gave teens avenues to explore issues of identity. Learn more about that here.
That meeting led to the development of our core team of students, whom Laura and I invited based upon their relationship with Elena and their expressed desire to do something concrete to remember her. We began meeting weekly with Keri and the students to brainstorm ideas for incorporating an art project with community awareness and political action to improve pedestrian safety. The students liked the idea of using the name of the art project for our group, and the Frist agreed. One of my proudest moments as their AP Lang teacher came when they decided to move the exclamation point in Stop. Take Notice! to change the emphasis to "stop". Although I have provided support, help connecting with the people they need to know to get things done, and some advice in crafting their message, the students have been the driving force behind all of the accomplishments of Stop! Take Notice.
It is not possible to teach as long as I have and not lose students. But Elena's death has profoundly affected me. I feel like I sent her out that day without fully knowing her, without talking about what book she was reading, without asking about her holiday plans, without saying goodbye. Helping our students memorialize her by protecting other pedestrians is my very small way of saying I love you, Elena, and I won't forget you.
A graduate of Hume-Fogg class of 2015, Kathryn worked with Stop! Take Notice since 2013 as one of the original members. She was in Elena's AP English class and loved hearing her insights into everything they read in class, including her poetry. Kathryn is currently attending Rice University and loves coming back to Nashville to see all of the great work current HFA students are doing with Stop! Take Notice. She loves soccer, history, and hopes to come back to Tennessee after school to study medicine.