SFR columnist Robert Wilder, a teacher at Santa Fe Preparatory School, is in Walla Walla, Wash. this week, teaching at Whitman College’s College Horizons program for Native students. He learned of the accident by phone.
Both Kate Klein and Alyssa Trouw were 16-year-old rising seniors at Prep and students with whom Wilder had close relationships.
Klein was both a creative writing and English student of Wilder’s, and worked with him on a community service project at Wood Gormley Elementary School.
“When she was working with the 5th or 6th graders, Kate never did anything but be kind to them, Wilder says. “She never raised her voice, never lost her patience. She was an amazing kid.”
Wilder recalls learning that Klein played the piano. “I really bugged her to play [for us], so one time we dragged her to the auditorium and it was unbelievably moving. We were all shocked by how heartfelt it was, technically brilliant, but also so heartfelt.”
Klein also taught piano to Wilder’s son, London. “When he found out…He doesn’t get it; he wrote her a little note that said, ‘Kate I don’t know what happened, but you were the best piano teacher.’ He’s really sad he’s not going to see her.”
Perhaps most notable to Wilder was Klein’s kindness. “Kate was the kind of kid who literally was friends with every walk of life, from the guys who are incredible in calculus to the kids who went to other schools. I remember having conversations with her when she was a sophomore about how she just couldn’t get involved with the drama of being unkind to people.”
And her talent as a student and a writer, Wilder says, was formidable. Her last essay, he says, was a beautiful piece about driving across the George Washington Bridge, back to her father’s hometown.
“She was a highly reflective kid,” Wilder says. “She really wanted to create beauty in a way that was sort of rare, with her writing, with her piano.”
In lieu of flowers for Kate, donations can be made as a memorial gift to the Natural Resources Defense Council or to Doctors Without Borders.
Like Klein, Alyssa Trouw also was a talented reader and writer. “Alyssa didn’t have an easy go of it,” Wilder says. “But she was the best reader of novels and fiction of anyone at the school. She would come in after reading Hemingway or Leslie Marmon Silko and really would nail whatever I wanted to talk about. She had this unbelievable eye. She could figure out what was happening at a graduate-school level.”
Her prose, Wilder says, “was sharp and polished and intuitive.”
Wilder says he was particularly impressed by Trouw’s turnaround during her most recent quarter. “She really wanted to show us she could do it,” he says. “She aced my class, so I went to her in the library and said, ‘Alyssa, you went from being one of the lowest grades to one of the highest,’ and she said, ‘Rob, I don’t want to have a heart-to-heart with you.’”
Instead, Wilder says, he began giving her books to read and they would talk about them, and “that was the way we communicated.”
Two very different students, Wilder says, “That was what was so neat about them being friends: They were very different but had some real similarities in the way they looked out at the world. They both looked at life as joy.” And both, he says, “had incredibly bright futures, for different reasons. It tears me up that they aren’t going to have a chance for that future.”