Alex Shapiro was a student in Andrew Reynolds’ Grade six class at Toronto’s Runnymede Junior and Senior Public School who was undergoing cancer treatment when he returned to school last fall.
“He (Andrew) talked to us about Alex last year,” said Wayne Reynolds. “They thought the chemotherapy and everything was starting to work.”
Eleven-year-old Alex passed away on April 12, two weeks before his 12th birthday.
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare,” said Wayne.
It was Alex’s mother, Cheryl Madeira, and another parent who nominated Reynolds for the teacher of the year award.
Wayne said he was proud of his son for getting involved with the plan to provide a supportive classroom environment for Alex right from the start.
“He didn’t say ‘it’s not my problem’ – that’s what the parents saw.”
Both Wayne and Joyce are retired schoolteachers who still reside in Sudbury, and Andrew’s sister Martina presently teaches in Sudbury.
“She’s an excellent teacher too,” said Wayne.
Both are reluctant to take credit for their children’s teaching success, although Joyce Reynolds did say she always espoused the virtue of showing kindness toward others.
“He (Andrew) didn’t stop caring. He went to Alex’s funeral and he and the kids in the class planted a tree in his name at the school.
“Our children’s values are a testament to our lives,” said Wayne.
Recognition comes on the heels of tragedy, Reynolds says
Andrew Reynolds said in a telephone interview Oct. 3 that it was nice to be recognized with this award, but that he “would trade it in a minute for a different outcome for Alex.” He added he is proud of what he has done, but this is Alex’s story.
“Winning this award is comforting because I get to talk about him.”
Reynolds said it was important to Alex and his mother that he was in as much of a normal environment as possible while he was undergoing his cancer treatments.
“Alex was quite an athlete and had many rich friendships.”
The amount of effort to have a “normal” school life was considerable, said Reynolds, but Alex remained one of his strongest performing students.
“He taught me the value of perseverance and determination by the way he fought for his life, his character as a student and the way he competed as an athlete.”
The school has established a perseverance award in Alex’s name and his classmates helped to select and plant a magnolia tree in the school’s nature garden.
Reynolds said the students watered the tree faithfully. “It is one of the things they could do to express their sorrow.”
The magnolia tree is also symbolic as it will flower every year around Alex’s birthday.
“I hope this provides some comfort to his parents and to his brother,” added Reynolds. “I think about him every day.”