A new memorial bench now has been dedicated on one corner of the Starkey Elementary School playground, surrounded by a garden area and shaded by a large tree, a garden in honor and remembrance of an eight-year-old student who died in August a year ago.
The cut-out inscription on the metal bench reads, “In loving memory of Arianna Khaile Lopez – January 28, 2012 – Aug. 17, 2020 – Our Warrior Princess.”
And the bench was constructed to include an incised portrait of young Arianna; and painted in her favorite color, a happy pink-purple.
The dedication ceremony last week was led by Starkey teachers and one of Arianna’s family members, her younger sister Peyton who also now attends Starkey.
Arianna was critically injured in August last year by a driver who lost control of his pickup truck and hit the side of her home so hard that she was pinned under his truck in her bedroom. She was hospitalized for several days, but succumbed to her injuries on Aug. 17, 2020.
The dedication ceremony was attended by Kerrville ISD administration officials, Starkey staff, students and friends of the family.
The dedication ceremony included a life tribute and prayer by Tami Bocanegra; and Arianna’s sister Peyton unveiling the bench and singing a song titled “Space Between.”
Others on the program were teacher Megan Myers reading comments by teacher/coach Dylan Warren; words of remembrance by Heather Grace, SES librarian; and acknowledgements and closing remarks by teacher Hailey Mohnke.
Mohnke helped lead the project for what started as a buddy bench and “little free library” on that corner of the playground; and grew to include professional landscaping with an irrigation system on an automatic timer.
Mohnke said last May when these plans started that third through fifth graders were promoting service projects monthly about kindness and citizenship; and as a third-grade teacher, her students were selling “spirit sticks” to help raise money.
At the time, Mohnke said the bench she envisioned for the “garden” was pricey; and she needed to gain community donations for the project. She said last week she was overwhelmed by the community response that followed.
She thanked a long list of area businesses, clubs and community donors at the dedication ceremony for their help. She said she and some of the students also held a “community planting day” with other volunteers, when the garden design progressed to the stage of actual gardening.
Bocanegra told the attendees that Arianna loved soccer; electronics; baking; dancing; singing; and making others smile.
She called Arianna “one of the most kind-hearted people anyone would ever meet; that she did her absolute best all the time; and called her “gentle but tough;” which led to the family’s inscription calling the girl their “warrior princess.”
“Arianna loved to learn, but her greatest passion was to teach,” she said, and added that she foresees this garden and its lending library will make that dream come true for other girls and boys.
Warren’s statement, as the PE teacher and a teacher for Arianna, too, said teachers often discussed “the perfect student” but it’s used so frequently that he’s come to consider it a cliché.
“But Arianna was even more than that - athletic, smart, a good listener, a big smile every day. She did the right thing even when no one was looking,” he wrote.
He called her a leader in and out of the classroom; and kind, compassionate and encouraging.
The teachers said they see the new bench as lending support and a place where people can sit and talk. And the new garden is “a beautiful statement, much like Arianna.”
Starkey student Logan Arispe read a poem titled “In Eternal Memory of a Little Angel,” a reading that spoke of her as bringing along much love, “And now you’re in heaven alone; God needed one more angel, So He took you back again.”
Grace knew Arianna by her attendance in the SES library; and because Grace was the teacher on “morning drop-off” at the school’s front curb. She said she greeted every student with a cheerful “good morning” but not all the students replied to her with as much cheer.
Arianna, she said, replied to her with as much cheer as she spoke with.
She said she’s gotten used to getting to know all the students and then losing the fifth graders to BT Wilson every year.
“But I was not prepared for the loss of Adrianna. She brought me chocolates and flowers and gave me hugs. She was a smart, kind girl. She gave light and warmth to everyone around her. Her classmates are still talking about her.”
In the library, Arianna “always knew exactly what she wanted to read … she was a poster child of a blossoming library kid.”
Grace said she hopes Arianna will be with those who sit on her bench.
Peyton Lopez came back to the microphone to sing a song titled “Space Between;” and then the students, families and community members attending were invited to decorate or sign more of the “memory stones” placed in her garden.
While that happened, more music was played, including “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Paint with All the Colors of the Wind.”
Arianna’s other family members did not speak to the assembled group, but posed for photos at the new pink-purple bench after the ceremony was complete.