Limestone staff and students working to cope with sudden loss of teacher

4 years ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Students and staff at Limestone Community School are working through the sudden, devastating loss of fifth and sixth grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher Amanda Pelletier, who died unexpectedly on Sunday, Jan. 12.


When Limestone Principal Ben Lothrop was notified later that day, he reacted with shock and disbelief. 

“I got the text early Sunday morning, and I had to ask a couple times just to make sure I had the correct information,” he said. “It was very, very shocking.”

Lothrop immediately notified all school staff members and sent a notice via Facebook to parents and community members later that afternoon, informing them of Pelletier’s passing and that school would be delayed by two hours on Monday to give staff time to process the news.

RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) provided Limestone with its crisis team and RSU 20 (Fort Fairfield) sent its counselor to speak with students.

“It was incredibly wonderful,” Lothrop. “We only have a part-time social worker here now, and for something this significant, I wanted to make sure we had enough people here to deal with any issues students may have.”

Students met with the crisis team Monday and were given an opportunity to ask questions, and counselors were available throughout the day.

Lothrop announced Wednesday that educational technician Shelly Ouellette would teach fifth and sixth grade ELA and social studies for the remainder of the year. 

On Thursday, Lothrop said the school is slowly working toward “a new normal.”

And as students grieve, Limestone Community School Social Worker Caley Pelletier is available to speak with them about their struggles.

Former Limestone Community School teacher Amanda Pelleter, left, and friend and colleague Jocelyn Dillon, pose with The Grinch in this photo taken just a month before Pelletier’s unexpected passing on Jan. 12. (Courtesy of Limestone Community School)

Pelletier said that overall, students have handled the news very well, adding that all students have had different experiences in their lives. Some have dealt with loss before, while others have not. 

“For students who have been through loss before, this might bring up memories of that loss, which makes it a little bit harder,” she said. “All we can do as adults, when it comes to younger kids, is to just be there for them, and to be upfront and honest with them about the grieving process.”

She emphasized that it’s okay to cry or to feel angry or upset while processing loss, and that returning to a new normal will be a long process.

“This is still very raw for some, and because of the shock, it hasn’t set in for some of the students yet,” she said. “The students who were in her class are also dealing with changes that other students may not be dealing with. Grieving takes a long time. It can take years and you may think that students are fine and then one day they may break down in tears because something triggered a memory. It’s a long process.”

Though Amanda Pelletier was hired just last summer, Lothrop said she “made a big impact very quickly.”

Lothrop said that while Pelletier, who was only 35 when she died, was already an amazing teacher, he’s saddened that he will no longer have the opportunity to see her continue to develop her craft.

Lothrop said the news has been especially hard on Limestone’s middle school teachers, who all had created a bond through working closely together.

Jocelyn Dillon, who teaches seventh and eighth grade ELA and social studies, said the news hit her “like a ton of bricks.” She said that the teacher left an incredible impact “not only on my own life but on the lives of many others.”

The teachers were both hired last July, and Dillon said they were “Facebook friends that same week,” immediately hitting it off.

“The thing I loved about Amanda was that there was no getting-to-know-each-other phase,” she said. “It was like we’d been friends for years. She had a way of making everyone feel so comfortable right out of the gate. The kids immediately took to her, and they knew when it was time to joke and when it was time to be serious, all by her tone and the look on her face.”

Dillon spoke with Pelletier the day before she died, and said their last conversation was about how Pelletier was going to make better use of response to intervention time, a process that helps struggling students, in the mornings.

“She was always working on ways to better her teaching, and how to be more accommodating to all of the kids in her classroom,” said Dillon.

Dillon, like Lothrop and many others, said she at first reacted with shock and disbelief.

“I didn’t think it was physically possible to cry as much as I did on Sunday, and I had no idea how on earth I was going to be able to teach Monday,” she said. “Then it hit me. She would be so mad at me for ‘being extra,’ as she would always say to not only me but to anyone who was a little ‘extra.’”

As everyone moves forward, Dillon said the school’s staff has been amazing, supporting not only the students but also one another. 

“Amanda wasn’t with us very long at LCS, but the impact she left on the staff and students at LCS will never be forgotten,” she said. “It was like she had been part of our community all along.”