Beloved teacher's death another blow for school
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer
WAI'ANAE — Less than a year after teacher Asa Yamashita was killed, Wai'anae High School students and faculty members are in mourning again following the sudden death of a beloved educator who, like Yamashita, transformed students' lives by believing they could overcome the odds to succeed and would try anything to get them excited about learning.
In a stuffy, multipurpose room at the school yesterday, students came and went throughout the day to talk to counselors and come to grips with the loss of Michael Anderson, 25, who was killed Friday when he fell some 200 feet while hiking with another teacher.
Some students worked through their grief by writing poems about Anderson and by making origami cranes, which will be presented to Anderson's family at a memorial service at the school Thursday.
"He was only 25," said Shanise Gray, a junior. "He was easy to talk to. He never got angry."
Students, teachers and staff are still grieving the loss of Yamashita, Gray said, and are now struggling with Anderson's death.
"It's really hard because there was Ms. Yamashita, who made a big impact on the school, and now Mr. Anderson."
Anderson taught math at Wai'anae High School, and also headed up the mock trial and gaming clubs.
He came to Wai'anae High School in 2006 as part of the Teach for America program.
SADDENED BY LOSS
Those who knew Anderson say he never gave up on students and believed anyone could succeed. Anderson started an AP calculus class, and in 2008 his mock trial club beat out Punahou School in a key competition.
He was also a member of the Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board.
Jill Beldemor, executive director for Teach for America-Hawai'i, said Anderson's two-year commitment at Wai'anae High School ended in 2008. But he stayed on because, in his words, "my work in Wai'anae is not done," Beldemor said.
"He was just beloved," she added. "He just cared so much for his kids and the community."
Anderson's death came as Wai'anae High School is still mourning Yamashita, a reading strategies coach known to students as "The Book Lady." Yamashita was fatally stabbed Feb. 27 as she sat eating saimin at 'Ewa Town Center.
Some 1,200 people attended services for Yamashita, a 43-year-old mother of two adopted daughters who took the time to discover students' interests so she could get them to learn to love to read.
Yesterday, Yamashita's husband, Bryan, said her death is "still a lingering thing" for many in Wai'anae.
And Anderson's death is probably reopening those wounds, he said.
"My wife died almost a year ago," he said. "I think it's still fairly fresh for people."
Yamashita didn't know Anderson, but he is saddened by the loss of a teacher who meant so much to students.
"He was such a promising teacher," Yamashita said.
Calvin Endo, who is on the Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board and is also Wai'anae High School's parent committee representative, said Anderson wasn't just a teacher to many of his students.
"He was a friend," Endo said.
There were signs of mourning all across the campus yesterday.
As some students spoke to counselors, others grieved in small groups.
"They consoled each other," Endo said. "We just lost a great guy — a guy who was having an impact in students' lives."
'HE HELPED ME PASS'
Anderson died Friday after slipping and falling from a trail ledge near Makaha Valley Towers condominiums.
On Jan. 10, a platoon leader at Schofield Barracks also fell to his death from a trail in Mākaha Valley.
Yesterday, Evan Davis, the teacher who was hiking with Anderson, addressed some grieving students. He also wrote a letter explaining what happened.
In the letter, Davis said Anderson was apparently knocked out after he fell about 15 feet.
"You are terribly missed by so many," Davis wrote, addressing Anderson in the letter.
Sophomore Dylan Ampeloquio, 15, sat writing something of his own for Anderson — a poem.
Anderson helped tutor Ampeloquio and always had a minute to listen to his problems.
"He helped me pass all my classes," Ampeloquio said. "When I was sad, he would help me through it."
His poem began, "I will always remember those good moments."