Beaupre Elementary plants tree in remembrance of kindergartener
By Stephanie Lulay email@example.com November 13, 2012 5:44PM
Nicole Gonzalez, bottom right, and cousin Miguel Casares, bottom center, mourn by a Red Maple Tree at Beaupre Elementary School that was dedicated in memory of her son Aries "Jaybird" Gonzalez on Saturday, November 10, 2012. Diagnosed with Leukemia at 20 months old, Gonzalez was 7 when he died shortly after graduating kindergarten. The school used a Red Maple because of Gonzalez love for spiderman and planted the tree across from Dari Delight, his favorite place to eat. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 13, 2012 9:03PM
AURORA — A red maple tree now is growing on the grounds of Beaupre Elementary School, where young Aries “Jaybird” Gonzalez once played.
The tree was planted over the weekend by teachers, family and students in memory of Jaybird, a Beaupre kindergartner who died in May.
The 7-year-old died the day after his kindergarten promotion, following a battle with leukemia. After a stem cell transplant, Jaybird developed a condition where transplanted immune cells attack a host body’s cells.
His mother, Nicole Gonzalez, said in May that graduating from kindergarten was Jaybird’s biggest goal.
Lindsey Geshiwlm, the tot’s kindergarten teacher at Beaupre, said it was important for teachers and staff to recognize Jaybird’s life.
“We talked about what we could do in the fall to recognize him,” Geshiwlm said.
They discussed hanging a picture or plaque in the school before settling on a constant reminder — a memorial red maple tree.
“We raised money as a staff for a plaque” to be placed by the tree, she said, and East Aurora’s building and grounds department donated the tree.
Geshiwlm said red was Jaybird’s favorite color.
“In the fall when the leaves start to change, they’ll be bright red,” she said.
Geshiwlm shared memories of having Jaybird in class for two years, visiting him in the hospital and his first day at school. Geshiwlm was 22 and a first-year teacher at the time.
“The first day I met him, I remember him crying before school started. Because of his skin he was worried that kids were going to laugh at him,” Geshiwlm said. “I told him he didn’t have to be scared. ‘What if the kids didn’t like me, either?’ I told him.”
Although Jaybird missed a lot of class time, Geshiwlm sent him recorded videos of his classmates, and Jaybird sent videos back to his fellow students.
“We did lots of little things so he would feel like he was going through school with the kids,” she said.
Having a sick student was a learning lesson for the first-year teacher, too. When students started asking questions, she told them that Jaybird’s body was hurting itself. One little girl in his class told her teacher she was scared that despite her prayers, Jaybird was going to heaven.
“I’d say on the inside he’s just a kid like you. He likes to play like you do, he needs friends like you do, and they were pretty understanding,” Geshiwlm said.
Gonzalez said Geshiwlm created an environment that was accommodating to Jaybird’s needs and played a major role in his life.
Fellow classmates always welcomed Jaybird warmly on his return to school, his mother said.
“I’m so honored because Jaybird not only impacted my life, but the lives of so many others as well,” Gonzalez said.