Candlelight crowd shows its love for a grieving Sowams School

By Scott Pickering
Posted 10/13/22

A large crowd gathered outside of tiny Sowams Elementary School in Barrington Wednesday night for an emotional candlelight vigil, organized by the school’s PTO in response to the stunning …

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Candlelight crowd shows its love for a grieving Sowams School


A large crowd gathered outside of tiny Sowams Elementary School in Barrington Wednesday night for an emotional candlelight vigil, organized by the school’s PTO in response to the stunning deaths of two longtime teachers in less than three months.

The candlelight vigil was structured as a celebration of the school and its staff, who were reeling after unexpectedly losing a second colleague in such a short period of time. Longtime literacy and math coach Cara Sanchez died in late July, and third-grade teacher Kathryn “Katie” Carey died unexpectedly on Oct. 4.

Sowams PTO president Heather Rooney greeted the enormous crowd by saying, “Thank you for the amazing outpouring of support you’ve offered to our school. Thank you for your generosity, for the many offers of assistance, for your kind and caring gestures. And thank you for coming tonight to be together. We’re grateful for the chance to gather as a community, to offer support to our wonderful school, for our amazing faculty and staff, and to offer support to one another.”

Rooney then welcomed the Rev. Patrick Greene of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Barrington. Greene told the crowd how he grew up in Barrington but never attended Sowams School himself, though he attended every other school in town. “Then just over two years ago, my son Jackson began kindergarten here, and I quickly realized that there is something special about Sowams, and that is in large part to due to the care and dedication, the gentleness and love, that all of you show to our children, to our families. So, thank you all for that,” he said.

Before lighting the first flame to the first candle, Greene said, “Even the tiniest flame dispels the darkness around it, and as it grows and spreads, it overcomes that darkness. And that’s why we’re here tonight, to stand together to remind ourselves, to remind one another, that no matter how dark it might seem, it will never overcome the light of this community. No matter how dark it might seem, we are never alone.”

Following a long moment of silence, three Sowams School parents each took a moment to address the crowd. First was Shannon Sullivan, who said: “It’s a privilege to have our children here, and to attend school like this, not just because of its small size, but the community that you’re instantly a part of from the day your child is enrolled, from the teachers, to the support staff, to [Principal] Jim Callahan. There is no school with greater culture or climate than Sowams. It’s difficult to put into words what makes Sowams so special, but the outpouring of support this week speaks for itself.

“It’s the people in the building who make it what it is. The Sowams staff has had an important role in helping us raise our kids. We brought them here as kindergarteners and they’ve helped develop them into confident and well-prepared third-graders. We have seen the staff continuously pivot throughout the pandemic, from virtual learning, to hybrid learning, through school shutdowns and through it all. They’ve helped our children thrive.”

Next was Doreen Gavigan, who shared some poignant and lighthearted insights about the beloved K-3 school: “There are certain things that as a parent you know will happen while you’re here at Sowams. Jim Callahan and other teachers will greet your child every morning, no matter what the weather is, with a smile on his face. Lori and Kara will call you to tell you you forgot to pack your child a lunch, but they’re going to feed them anyway.

“Your teachers will answer your emails. They’ll take your calls, listen to your concerns, celebrate your child’s successes, and make sure they turn into the good citizens that we all want them to be.

“The staff will listen to your kids and ALL of their stories, even the ones you wish they didn’t repeat. And finally, as all Sowams parents know, no one messes with Jim Callahan in the drop-off line.”

Last was Michelle Lucas, who said: “In the last several years, and especially the last three months, the losses for the Sowams community have been so great. But the teachers and the staff have been here for us through the most difficult times, and in return, our community will always be here for them. Our love and respect for our teachers has only grown, and this community is committed to them in every way.”

Principal Jim Callahan spoke to the crowd for a few minutes and spent much of the time thanking the many people who have reached out to him with an overwhelming show of support. He added: “Our school has suffered two major losses within the past three months, to say the least. This has been heartbreaking and devastating to all of us at Sowams, to the Barrington Public Schools and the Barrington community. These losses, however, have brought us together tonight as a community, to honor and show our appreciation to our Sowams faculty and staff.”

He concluded with these words: “I am fortunate to work with so many highly talented individuals at Sowams. They work tirelessly for our students each and every day. We are here to honor them and show our love and support. This has been incredibly hard for all of us at Sowams. But together we are strong — strong for each other and strong for our students.

“Personally, I want to thank each and every faculty and staff member. In the 20 years I have been at the helm of this school, you have supported me, encouraged me, pushed me, gotten mad at me, and made me better. So many people have commented on the love they have for our school, and it’s because of you. Your dedication, your hard work, your love for our students and each other. And I thank you.

“Finally, I want to thank the community. We feel the love and we feel supported. Thank you all for coming tonight for our Sowams faculty and staff. This is truly a show of support for what I think, and frankly I am biased, is the best school in our state. Thank you very much for coming tonight. We truly do appreciate the support.”

In addition to being teachers in the district, both of the women who died were Barrington residents who leave behind family in town. In the hours after Carey's death, the district elected to close Sowams school last week, and it remained closed for the rest of the week. It reopened to students on Tuesday, Oct. 11.

Click here to listen to Principal Jim Callahan's remarks.

Click here to listen to three Sowams School parents.

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