“I just can’t let it go,” admits Evans. “She was just one of those kids who gets under your skin. She was so friendly and sweet.”
Known for her kindness, compassion and quick smile, Ariana was Gehringer’s unofficial welcome wagon, often taking it upon herself to show new students around campus and setting them at ease in their new environment.
“She was always smiling, always very positive,” said Gehringer teacher Collette Farrace. “I had her in my class for reading. She was so sweet and had the prettiest smile.”
When the popular fifth-grader – who had recently transferred to a private school in Brentwood – collapsed and died suddenly in August of 2004 following soccer practice, news of her passing hit the Gehringer community hard. So hard, in fact, that grief counselors were brought in to help staff and students deal with their loss. And it was through those sessions with counselors that a group of students came up with a way to honor their friend.
It’s called Ariana’s Ambassadors, a campus-based leadership program for fifth-graders. The Ambassadors’ primary function is to welcome new students to campus, show them around the school and introduce them to students and staff.
The program is voluntary; students must be approved by their teachers to participate. Ambassadors commit to two meetings per month plus a monthly duty or activity such as recycling, working in the library or walking kindergarteners to and from the cafeteria at mealtime.
“It’s a way to teach the students leadership and to remember Ariana,” said Farrace, a co-director of the program. “It’s a neat thing to see.”
Jessica Rodriquez, 10, said her year as an Ambassador has been interesting and fun: “I think it’s very nice what she (Ariana) did. And it makes me feel good to be helping, too.”
Max Cordova, 10, agreed. He believes Ariana would approve of the group’s efforts. “It (the program) teaches you integrity, respect and leadership,” he said, “and I think those are things Ariana would be proud of us for doing.”
“This group is the perfect way to remember her,” said Evans. “It’s a nice thing to have her name on.”