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Students celebrate life of classmate, friend

A little girl who touched the hearts of first-graders at Countryside Elementary School through virtual communication died Nov. 15, on her 8th birthday.

Lucia Kesner visited her Countryside Elementary School class a few times, including for a Halloween party

Lucia “Luci” Raegan Kesner had a debilitating and terminal disease called mucolipidosis type II.  Because of issues with her immune system she was unable to attend school, so each week last school year, first graders in Melissa Austin’s class connected with her via Facetime. Students looked forward to the sessions and embraced her as one of their own (read ‘She’s one of us’). 

On Nov. 19, Austin and the now second graders gathered for a celebration of Luci’s life, complete with cupcakes and balloons. They sang, made her birthday cards, read a book together, and shared memories.

“The kids were friends with Luci,” Austin said. “Our goal was to give kids the opportunity to celebrate they friendship they had.”

Last school year, students used sign language to talk to Luci and chose books to send home to her. The class had a desk set aside for Luci with her photo above. When there was a classroom visitor they introduced her even though she could not physically be there. Her mother, Geneva Kesner, said at the time that being part of the class was a great social outlet for Luci.

Austin said getting to know Luci was immensely meaningful to her students. “I think it was life changing for them. They learned to look at someone and see how they are alike rather than how they are different.”

Students are also learning about dealing with grief. “We had the opportunity to talk about those big emotions,” she  said.

Family friends have started a GoFundMe page to help with funeral costs.

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Lucia Kesner’s Obituary

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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