By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
---- — Western Primary School students released 1,500 balloons Friday afternoon to remember their friend Mason Hopkins, who died Oct. 5 after a three-year battle with brain cancer.
Tiny kindergarten, first-, and second-graders gasped and clapped as the red, green, orange, blue, pink and yellow balloons floated off into the clear, blue skies.
Each balloon carried a message that read, “In memory of Mason Hopkins. You will be missed by Western Primary.”
Mason was in Cheryl Cox’s first-grade class. He loved soccer and motorcycles and singing and dancing. Cox said he was a charmer who called all little girls “princesses.”
Cox fought back tears Friday as she talked.
Before the release, she spoke to the 600 kids about what the balloons represented.
“This is a special day for us to remember a very brave and very special first-grader,” she said.
Mason loved school, was a friend to everyone, always cared about others and loved to joke around with and tease others in a kind way, she said.
“One of Mason’s best gifts was his ability to fill our buckets with just his friendly smile,” Cox told the students. “Because Mason touched our hearts in such a special way, we wanted to share that great feeling with others. We hope that anyone who sees these balloons in the air today or finds them when they land will also smile and share their smile with others.”
Cox also had her students color pictures to send to Riley Hospital for Children to brighten the rooms of children who are struggling like Mason struggled.
She said Mason’s death really affected her kids. Every day since he died, they’ve remembered him in their own special way.
Friday, they talked about how much he liked to joke around with others.
School social worker Kristi Leap said other first-graders cried as they grieved their friend’s death. But teacher Tricia Harlow said some were too little to understand.
One little girl said Mason could hang out with her cat, who got hit on the road recently.
“They think he’s hanging out with all their dogs and cats who have passed,” Harlow said.
The balloon release gives them a visual to help them understand. It’s something they can connect with, she said.
And it’s something Mason would have enjoyed — doing something that makes people smile.
“It’s just like Mason would have done,” Cox said.
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at firstname.lastname@example.org