on March 26, 2013 - 12:13 PM
, updated March 26, 2013 at 12:14 PM
Sarah Acton showed many of her Tapestry Charter School students the world – and she pushed them hard to succeed there.
She took them on college trips, including visits to her alma mater, Fordham University in New York City. She insisted they graduate from high school and aim high with their postgraduate plans. And she shared with them her passion for the Spanish language and her beloved Costa Rica.
Acton led 11 of her high school Spanish students on a planned two-week cultural exchange in Costa Rica. On Monday afternoon, she accompanied them on a white-water rafting trip, and they had just gotten back on the raft following a fun-filled time at a local swimming hole.
“One minute she was sitting in the back of a raft, laughing with her students, and then Sarah became nonresponsive,” Tapestry Executive Director Joy Pepper said.
“She lost consciousness, and we don’t know why,” Tapestry High School Principal Lynn Seagren Bass added Tuesday, inside the school on Great Arrow Avenue in North Buffalo.
Acton received immediate medical attention, but attempts to revive her were unsuccessful, and she died, at age 31.
Tapestry Charter School considers itself both a community and a family, and school officials were reeling Tuesday from the loss of a five-year veteran teacher they described as bubbly, energetic and passionate about life.
“She mentored these kids,” Bass said. “She went way above and beyond.”
One student may have summed it up best Tuesday, according to school officials.
“We’ve got to remember, she wanted us all to graduate and be successful,” this student said. “So we’ve got to do it for her.”
“She really embraced these kids, and she knew how to connect with them,” Pepper said.
While the school mourned its loss Tuesday – with students, teachers and staff members all trying to comfort each other – school officials wore out their emails and cellphones in communications with Costa Rican officials during Easter week.
The 11 students on the exchange trip, all 10th-, 11th- or 12th-graders, are safe and under the care of the program’s student-exchange coordinator in Costa Rica, Pepper told the Tapestry community in a lengthy message Tuesday morning.
Earlier, school officials arranged for the students, who had lived with various host families in Costa Rica, to stay together Monday night, after all of them witnessed their teacher being fatally stricken.
“We felt it was better that they all be together,” Pepper explained.
Jack Turner, the lower school’s assistant principal, who accompanied Acton on a similar trip to Costa Rica two years ago, headed there Tuesday to bring the students home. They were scheduled to return home late tonight, about halfway through their scheduled trip.
While some of the students wanted to stay in Costa Rica, to honor Acton by finishing the trip, school officials opted to bring them home, so they could be with their families, Pepper said.
School officials also helped Acton’s family arrange for her body to be returned home some time later this week.
The former Sarah Thorp, who graduated from Kenmore West High School and later studied Spanish language and literature at Fordham, was married to James Acton, a YNN News photojournalist.
Tapestry administrators learned about Acton’s death late Monday. They called the teachers from about 11 p.m. Monday until about 2 a.m. Tuesday.
After the students heard the news at school Tuesday morning, Tapestry’s sense of community took over.
“The students asked for the flag to be at half-staff this morning,” Pepper said. “It was a way for them to honor her. It was a tangible thing that they could say they wanted to do for her.”
Crisis Services counselors were made available at the school Tuesday.
Late Tuesday, students, teachers and staff members shared stories about Acton, including little things, like her passion for teaching kids to bake and decorate cupcakes from scratch.
“We told the kids that they needed to take care of each other,” Bass said. “That’s what she would want.”
As news of Acton’s death spread Tuesday morning, members of the school community – presumably students and former students – took to social media sites to share their condolences.
“RIP to one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Acton. We love & miss you so much,” one person wrote. Another said, “Not a single person in the Tapestry community will forget what you have done for all of us.”
And another, referring to Acton’s love of cupcakes, wrote, “R.I.P. Mrs. Acton!!!!!!!! You will truly be missed ... I can imagine you being an angel making a billion cupcakes right now!”