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The Roar

The Student news source for West Shore Junior/Senior High School

The Roar

The Student news source for West Shore Junior/Senior High School

The Roar

Palm tree planted as memorial to former student

Carter Newlin
Under the direction of math teacher Debra Jerdon, members of First Priority provided funds for a foxtail palm planted outside the commons area in memory of Anisha Somasamudramath, who would’ve graduated with the class of 2024. The palm was planted by former art teacher Matt Henderson.
Suresh Somasamudramath

Math teacher Debra Jerdon admired the foxtail palm tree planted on campus April 26 in memory of her former student Anisha Somasamudramath, who passed away in July. She would have graduating this year.

“I just remember her as a beautiful young person, and I was really upset that she was just gone,” Jerdon said. “I found out on the first day of school.”

Jerdon taught Somasamudramath Algebra 2 in 2021. The class had 14 people in it. 

“It was a really small class, so you just talk to the students individually a lot more,” Jerdon said. “I felt like I really knew people in that class more than I usually do. She was a sweet person, and I enjoyed teaching her.”

Jerdon discussed the project with the administration and Somasamudramath’s parents to get it approved.

“I wanted to make sure it was OK,” Jerdon said. “Her dad knows that I was going to do something. I’m really busy at school and home, so I am relieved that I managed to follow through.”

Principal Rick Fleming and Matt Henderson, a former art teacher at school, collaborated with Jerdon on the planning of the project throughout the year. Henderson, who owns the landscaping business Riverside Palms and Tropical Design, helped select a foxtail palm tree and pentas flowers to place around it. 

“The beauty of foxtail palms is they don’t need a lot of maintenance in order to grow,” Fleming said. “It’s a gorgeous, very majestic-looking tree that grows straight up without any extra shrubbery or foliage. The tree’s root ball will not hit any piping. The flowers planted around it usually dormant or die in the winter, and then new ones grow in the spring.”

Mark Schledorn, faculty sponsor for the Christian-based club First Priority since 2017, spearheaded the creation of Somasamudramath’s a marker after speaking with Jerdon six weeks ago. Schledorn had Somasamudramath in his Journalism 1 class in 2021. First Priority received the metal plate from Al’s Trophy Shop Inc on Friday.

“Jerdon is busy teaching, and now that we are out of time, nobody has contributed to the stone,” Schledorn said. “This seemed like it should be more of a community thing. We ordered the metal plaque and glued it to a paver stone with special marine glue.”

Schledorn said pushing the stone into the ground will prevent students from interfering with the memorial.

“We were talking about having a stake that went in the ground, and I could just see it getting hit by a mower or kids pulling it out of the ground,” Schledorn said. “Kids are kids. I am not saying anybody’s malicious, but let’s be honest. If there is something they can be playing around with, they will be playing around with it.”

Fleming said everyone can take away something from the project. 

“We did not want to sensationalize it,” Fleming said. “It was a powerful moment for Jerdon, and I am super-glad we were able to do it this year. When you lose a student, especially being a parent, it is emotional. When someone young passes, they had their whole life ahead of them.”

Fleming said he wants people in place to take care of the memorial.

“I have often been asked to plant different trees and plant shrubbery in our courtyards, but I have resisted that,” Fleming said. “It is not because I do not want to, but it has to be maintained and easy to look through for student supervision. Jerdon is going to take care of the tree until she retires, and hopefully, as we get custodians and staff on board, this will always be here. Given that this is a memorial, it should be here forever.”

Jerdon is planning a day for the Somasamudramath family and friends to view the tree.

“I was thinking about Saturday because it is not a school day,” Jerdon said. “I would also like it if any of her friends or teachers wanted to come in. That idea has been percolating in my brain, but I have never really organized a project like this.”

Schledorn said this project was the best way to honor Somasamudramath. 

“We want it out there with her graduating class,” Schledorn said. “The yearbook this year will not have a picture of Somasamudramath. But we will have this tree so younger people and those who come back to campus can remember her. People matter, and you need to remember them.”

Jerdon said she wants the school to take away that students have a special place in teachers’ hearts when looking at the tree. 

“Teachers really care,” Jerdon said. “Sometimes students are like ‘Oh, that teacher hated me because I never did my homework or did well on tests.’ But that is not how teachers think in general. When something like this happens, it’s just devastating. I would want her parents to know she is not forgotten.”

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About the Contributors
Ella Dorfman
Ella Dorfman, Editor in Chief
Hi, I’m Ella! This is my third year on staff. I am so excited to carry on the torch this year and to continue to grow as a journalist. My favorite stories to cover are news and features.
Carter Newlin
Carter Newlin, Photo Editor
Hey! I'm a junior and this is my first year on the "Roar" staff. I love photography, especially on film. I also play soccer for West Shore, and I'm a huge Jacksonville Jaguars fan. Duuuval and go Cats!