By Curt Yeomans
Riverdale High School teachers Shemika Nicole Lewis and Emily Meeks had plans to join a local Curves fitness center together after Christmas. But, now the pair will not be able to continue with their plan.
At least not Lewis.
Teachers, students, administrators and staff members at Riverdale High are grieving for the woman whom Meeks said was known for her friendly nature and care for her students. Lewis, 27, who was in her second year of teaching at the school, died Monday in a car accident in McDonough, as she drove to work.
"It has been really tough dealing with the grief and all of the emotions that come with it," said Meeks, an English teacher at Riverdale. "We lost a teacher, a co-worker, a role model and a friend. Her family lost a daughter, a niece, and a sister."
Lewis' car was struck at 7:15 a.m., by a Ford Excursion at the intersection of Ga. Highway 81 West and Nail Drive, in McDonough. The collision of the two vehicles caused them to collide with a school bus from a McDonough-based child development center.
Lewis, a Brunswick native, and a Georgia Southern University graduate, lived in McDonough with her aunt. She mainly taught sophomores.
Lewis and Meeks met shortly after the school year began in August. Meeks was new to the school, and Lewis was beginning her second year. A year earlier, Lewis taught across the hall from what later became Meeks' classroom. The history teacher came into Meeks' classroom and welcomed her to Riverdale High School.
They quickly became friends and co-sponsors of the school's step team.
"Not even knowing her that long, she still had a big impact on my life here at Riverdale," said Meeks. "She enjoyed doing her job ... She was very kindhearted. She made it feel like a family."
Meeks said Lewis' aunt told her that her niece had been working over the weekend on a project to help her students do well on final examinations set to be administered later this week.
"She took her job very seriously," said Meeks. "She really loved her students. They meant a lot to her."
Now, those same students are struggling to come to grips with her death. "A lot of her students are crushed and hurt," said Meeks. "Some of them do not even want to go into her classroom, because that was where she taught. It was Miss Lewis' classroom."
Clayton County Schools Spokesman Charles White said grief counselors were sent to the school at midday on Monday. The counselors were again at the school on Tuesday, White said.
White added that Terry Young, the principal at Riverdale, "appreciated the opportunity," offered by the Clayton News Daily, to talk about Lewis' life. But, the principal declined so he could focus on providing support to his students, faculty and staff.
"Dr. Young is trying to keep things as normal as possible for his school's family as they approach the semester break," said White.
Sid Chapman, president of the Clayton County Education Association (CCEA), said Lewis joined his organization in July 2007.
Lewis was honored on Monday night with a moment of silence by the Clayton County Board of Education. Superintendent John Thompson delivered the news of Lewis' death to the board, district officials and the community, during his twice-a-month report.
Thompson highlighted the fact that several Riverdale students have died this year, some of whom were victims of gang-related violence. The superintendent expressed the district's sympathy for Lewis' family and the school community.
"We have lost one of our own," said Thompson, with sadness in his voice. "Tragically, she taught at a school which has already been touched by too much tragedy this year."