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The City Journals

Beloved Midvalley Teacher Honored with Friendship Bench

Aug 01, 2016 09:33AM ● By Julie Slama

Colleagues remember that former third-grade Midvalley teacher Carrolyn McCann made friends with all the students at the school. The new buddy bench will honor her at the school. — Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Midvale, Utah - The Midvalley Elementary community has endured much this year — the unexpected death of a third-grade teacher in the fall, a sudden death of a playground aide in winter and the announcement of a new first-grade teacher battling breast cancer.

However, this spring third-grade teacher Carrolyn McCann’s family brightened the day for many of her former and current students. They made arrangements to place a buddy bench on the school playground.

“I saw it about two years ago and thought it was a neat idea,” McCann’s nephew Nate Richardson said. “We thought it was a great way to honor her memory.”

Richardson, who had his aunt as his third-grade teacher, told McCann’s class in a recent ceremony that the bench was “to help remember her spirit, to remember she was always there, always available to talk, to be a friend.”

“As Carrolyn’s class, it’s your opportunity to see a classmate on that bench who may need someone to play with or talk to, and go talk to them and be their friend as a way to remember her,” he said. 

Former Parent-Teacher Association president and current playground aide Angie Phillips said students felt a tie to McCann.

“She connected with every kid,” she said. “She’d say, ‘hey ya, gal,’ and was a friend to everyone. She’d be the first one to walk up to them and be their buddy. This bench is super symbolic.”

Principal Jeff Nalwalker remembered how “students hung on every word she said.”

“Carrolyn possessed a gift that not every teacher has,” he said. “That gift was her ability to connect with kids on (a) very deep level. Her students felt that connection and took to her immediately. That gift allowed her to have a profound influence on hundreds of students in the roughly thirty years she spent in the classroom. This love and influence went beyond her students to their families as well. In fact, over the years, Carrolyn taught entire families, but even to the extend that she taught students 10 and 20 years ago and has gone on to teach the children of those students.”

Fellow third-grade teacher Tiffany Rudelich said she misses her colleague’s humor.

“She always would make you laugh about anything,” said Rudelich who worked beside her classroom for 12 years. “She could brighten your day and everything seemed to get better. She was amazing and always had these great art projects that kids would give to parents and grandparents. She really is irreplaceable.”

Colleague Anna Taylor remembers some of the projects included edible maps, bracelets made from lamb’s wool, candy houses during the holiday season — all which she tied into the curriculum.

“I loved when I rotated in her room for art,” said fifth-grader Jessica Ynda, who’s 22-year-old cousin had McCann for a teacher. “We did a lot with animals which she kept in portfolios for us.”

Classmate Grace Aguirre said her former teacher not only shared what she did over the weekend, but had students write what they did.

“She’s then write cute responses, like if you were at a trampoline park, she’d write, ‘Cool — You should do a flip!’ Grace said. “She made a connection to each one of us. She was the most loving and caring person and if I was sad, she’d always make me feel better.”

Playground aide Doris Santos said her daughter Kalani loved her former teacher.

“Her grandma had cancer and Mrs. McCann would talk to her and explain that sometimes people get sick, some are cured, sometimes people leave, but she can be strong and remember the fun times, their laughter,” Santos said.

That’s what Richardson remembers fondly of his “crazy aunt.”

“She always had my cousins, her kids and us hang out and do out-of-the-normal funny things, like lots of pranks. She always smiled and had a quirky personality. She always had us in good spirits and every one of us kids, and even her students, would give her hugs,” he said.

It was during a cruise to Alaska with McCann’s family and his own that she fell and broke her hip. During the blood work, the family learned she had cancer.

“She met that with positive spirit, never complaining, even though it challenged her as she battled it, she kept a happy attitude,” he said.

However, it was during a school day when McCann, who was said to be in remission, didn’t feel quite well so at mid-day, a colleague took her home. After insisting she didn’t need anyone contacted, she died that afternoon.

“She just didn’t want to bother anyone. She was just an energetic person who was so caring and reached out to others and that’s what we want the students to remember with this bench,” Richardson said.