Wednesday, July 24, 2024

North Warren Responds to Loss of Seventh Grader

In what could be described as a trying week, school officials, parents and the community grappled with two disquieting, separate deaths this past week. 

The North Warren school community mourned the loss of Cooper James Thompson, 13, who died February 12. 

The same evening, in an unrelated incident, Cheryl Schilling, 58, of the Columbia section of Knowlton, was shot and killed in her home.

A seventh-grader, Cooper was described by several people who knew him as a talented musician and skateboarder with a unique sense of humor who could light up any room. 

The loss stunned the school district, prompting officials to immediately begin reaction programs. North Warren Superintendent Jeanene Dutt said support protocols were activated for students and staff to deal with the immediate impact of the news. 

“The supports that were enacted for students and any staff member included five professional traumatic loss counselors in addition to all of our school counselors and members of the child study team,” Dutt said. “The students were provided with supportive listening and information on the process of loss and grief.”

The counselors were available to offer support within the classroom settings, in addition to providing counseling both individually and within small groups, she added. 

The snow day and school closing on Wednesday added a challenge to the mix, making in-person contact all but impossible. Dutt said school officials kept in touch with the community throughout the day with telephone and Zoom meetings.

“We also provided communication to the school community including parents and board members on the support being offered to all students and staff when they returned from the emergency snow day on Wednesday,” Dutt said. “This communication also listed multiple local resources for trauma and grief.”

The day of the return of students began with a crisis team meeting before the arrival of the students, Dutt said. 

“We ended the day with the same team to debrief,” she added. 

Keeping the school community informed was one of the top priorities as the situation unfolded. Dutt said getting timely and accurate information out to parents was essential to head off rumors and misinformation—even if well intended—that can quickly gain traction on social media. 

After all the facts were vetted and verified, a letter was sent by email to the families in the school district, she said. 

Cooper’s life will be celebrated Sunday, February 18, at the Blairstown Fire Dept., 5 Stillwater Road, in Blairstown, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. His family said all are welcome to join them to share stories about Cooper. 

As a passionate skateboarder, Cooper’s family is asking that those wishing to honor his legacy make donations in his name to the Footbridge Skate and Arts Project. A link to a GoFundMe page can be found on the Blairstown Enhancement Committee website at Cooper was extremely excited about the possibility and opportunity to have a place to ride so close to home.

Cooper will be remembered by his mother, Jaime Foehr and her partner Stephen Guiliana; father, Jacob Thompson and his partner Becky Hal; as well as his siblings, Jackson, Davis, Nora, Michael and Zachary. Cooper also had an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and a multitude of family and school friends.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.