The students in Monica Finelli's fourth grade class at Garden City Elementary School miss their friend, Franklin, very much. Franklin Gomez Riz was diagnosed with brain cancer in the third grade, and in February of this school year, at the end of the school vacation week, Franklin passed away.
Finelli had the difficult job of telling her students the sad news about their friend on that Monday afternoon.
"We heard of Franklin's death at the end of the day. We sat on the rug. We had a moment of silence," said student Steven Rossi.
A week after Gomez’s death, the class released balloons with messages to Franklin.
"He was a very special little boy," said Finelli.
According to the students, Gomez’s class number was 7, he loved animals and the color orange, and he wore a different hat almost every day.
"He had animal [hologram] stickers all over his desk that used to move," said Cole Palumbo.
After Gomez’s death, the students submitted poems on his behalf to the Young Poet's Digest, which were accepted and will be printed in October of the next school year. They also wrote letters to his family, expressing how sad they were at losing their friend.
"We drew pictures to go with them to say how sorry we were," said Emily Blais.
In honor of their classmate, Garden City had participated in walks for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, hosted a reading night to support the Gomez Riz family and wore "Brain Power" bracelets. But of all the things they've done, one memorial will carry on after Gomez’s classmates have graduated: they created Franklin's Friendship Garden.
"We all brought in flowers to plant in a garden. We planted rocks, and we put them in the garden with our names on them and we put Franklin's Friendship Garden on them," said Cade Petrella.
Finelli's mother, Gail Jeschke, a former Garden City Elementary teacher, was instrumental in getting the garden going, along with her husband, Walter, also a former Cranston Public Schools teacher.
"This was very special for us, listening to the conversations about Franklin. They all had something to say about him," Jeschke said. "We planted perennials, some annuals and some seeds. If someone forgot theirs, everyone was willing to share."
Everything was coordinated in honor of Gomez, even the color of the flowers.
"Most of us brought in orange flowers because Franklin's favorite color was orange," said Zachary Breene.
The students could paint whatever they wanted on the rocks that adorn the garden.
"Most of us painted flowers on our rocks," said Hunter Pierce.
The students had a special visitor to their garden as they planted it on that spring day, shortly after what would have been Gomez’s birthday: an orange butterfly, which stayed for most of the duration of the garden planting.
An angel figurine was placed in the garden as well.
"We put the angel in the garden to represent Franklin," said Nathan Preziosi.
The students now know that whenever they're missing their friend, they can go out to Franklin's Friendship Garden and remember him and all of the things that made him special.
"He was a special friend," said Erode Milsette.
All of the students agree.
"It's really sad, even now, and we'll never forget about him. It seems like we just heard the news," said Isabella Lepre.
Finelli and Jeschke are glad they've been able to help the students work through their grief, and they know that it's helped them work through their own as well. Like the students, they said they would never forget Gomez.
Emily Blais summed it up nicely for her classmates.
"We're all going to miss him, but we still have him in our hearts."