In Carin Wilson’s memory, students are filling a bulletin board with doves and expressions of their thoughts and memories of her. Courtesy / Westbrook School Department

WESTBROOK — The death of Canal School teacher Carin Wilson late last month dealt an emotional blow to students and staff that required an immediate response to help them deal with their grief, the school district’s superintendent said.

Wilson

Wilson, 46, of North Yarmouth, died Dec. 26. She had been a teacher for over 20 years, the past 11 of those teaching second grade at Canal. Her focus was literacy, but she also taught her young students how be emotionally intelligent and responsible, her colleagues say. Described by some as ahead of the curve, they say she will be forever missed.

“She was so dedicated and put her heart and soul into helping kids communicate what they needed,” school social worker Angela Record said. “She was practicing trauma-sensitive work the whole time I knew her, before it was something we came together to talk about as a district.”

Staff members were informed Dec. 27 with a district-wide notice sent that night. Students were on the holiday break, but counselors made themselves available at Canal for staff members and older, former students who had heard the news and wanted to talk.

When Canal students resumed classes after the break, their principal addressed them.

“We did a virtual meeting across Canal so Principal Vicky Hebert could tell all of the students at once,” Superintendent Peter Lancia said. “That was important, as the principal is the parent of the school.”

One of Carin Wilson’s former students created this painting in her memory and donated it to Canal School. Courtesy / Westbrook School Department

A team of counselors, social workers and school administrators reached out directly to Wilson’s students and their families, he said.

Trained volunteers from the Trauma Intervention Program also came to talk through the grief with students and faculty. Rooms were available at the school for those who need some private time during the day.

“We had other social workers and school counselors from other buildings in as well all week to help cover classes and things if needed,” Principal Vicky Hebert said.

Counselors also held sessions at other Westbrook schools, including the middle school where over 60 of Wilson’s former students attend.

Kindergarten teacher Hannah Gundersdorf stepped in to take Wilson’s classes for the rest of the year, and Gundersdorf’s intern will take over the kindergarten class, Lancia said. Gundersdorf will provide a familiar face for Wilson’s students, many of whom had her as a kindergarten teacher, and also will allow colleagues to rest assured Wilson’s students are being well cared for.

“That was one of the kindest things I’ve seen a teacher do in my entire career. I think it was just as comforting for the colleagues as students because that’s something we worry about, how can we fill that? When she offered to do that, it really helped a lot of people through their grief,” Lancia said.

Students’ families were also grateful, he said.

Hebert said Gundersdorf’s offer “brought her to tears, for her to sacrifice that and doing the right thing for Carin and the kids.”

“Canal School is a special place, we are a family. The teachers and staff truly care about our students and are dedicated to both their academic and social-emotional success.  It is out of respect for my colleagues, the children, and their families that I offered to teach Mrs. Wilson’s class,” Gundersdorf said.

Wilson was an amazing teacher, Hebert said.

“She really went all in. She’d stay late. I’d come in early one day and see her here at 3 a.m. I mean, she was just so full of energy,” Hebert said.

First grade teacher Stefanie Hall said Wilson “was truly a light in our school.”

“I can still to this day hear her walking down the hall shouting, ‘hey hun.‘ I just wish I could hear it again,” Halls said. “During our celebrative days, like 100 days of learning, she put her all into her costumes, and that speaks on her as a person.”

Wilson is survived by her husband, Gary Wilson, and their sons Keegan Jayce and Tucker James, along with other relatives.

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“Carin was a gifted educator. One of our most talented,” Lancia said. “She was committed to literacy and teaching kids how to read, and what I really valued was that she wasn’t just concerned about the skills and context of reading, (but also) teaching kids the love of reading. She really wanted to introduce kids to a lot of different types of literature, help them discuss the literature, and not just pronounce the words. She was developing lifelong readers and she will be sorely missed.”

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