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Coronavirus Victims: Students From 3 States Remember Their Teachers

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Nearly 70,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. Some of them worked in schools - teachers, coaches, counselors. Today we remember three of those people as seen through the eyes of their students.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Paula Pryce-Bremmer was a guidance counselor at Careers in Sports High School in New York City. She was 51 years old. Michael Westbrook was 54. He was the band director at Hardin-Jefferson High School in Sour Lake, Texas. And Ron Hill was a coach and substitute teacher at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Fulton County, Ga. He was 63 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRITT WHITSTEIN: My name is Britt Whitstein (ph). I graduated from Mount Vernon Presbyterian High School in 2017. Coach Hill was one of my varsity basketball coaches. Coach Hill had a way of changing your perspective without you even knowing it. Because he believed in me, I did things in high school and even going into college that I probably never would've done without his lessons. Even when I went to college, he made an effort to keep in contact with me. And you know if some boy ended up on my Facebook, I could always expect a message almost instantly. He would ask, who's this guy? Do I need to take care of him? - or he would say something like, he's on coach's list. Like, tell him to watch out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHITSTEIN: Hearing about Coach Hill's passing felt just not real. It's a huge loss for the community. He was someone that everyone knew and loved. Even if you didn't play for him, you knew him. I really don't think there is anyone he met that didn't love him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ADAM SCOTT BOREL: There was no reason not to love Mr. Westbrook, I guess. Yeah, he was hard on us from time to time, but that's just what teachers do to make you get better. My name's Adam Scott Borel (ph). I'm 17, and I go to Hardin-Jefferson High School. He was my band director throughout my whole band experience, from sixth to senior year.

I remember one - or last year, we played a piece called "Amazing Grace." And he just explained it to us, and he couldn't explain it to us without breaking into tears. So that really helped it bring to a real level of what we were playing. One day when I was in the office with him - he has his own little office. And he was just getting done with this middle school band class. And as they were walking out, he pulled out his coronet and, like, just started playing "In The Garden." Do you know that hymn?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BOREL: And it was just the most beautiful thing I heard come out of a just brass instrument, I guess. And a coronet to me is just a bigger version of a trumpet. And to me, that represents, like, how Mr. Westbrook had such a big heart and just cared so deeply for each of his students.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VANETTA STEVENSON: My name is Vanetta Stevenson (ph), and I'm 29 years old. Mrs. Bremmer was my guidance counselor in high school. I spent, like, every day in her office just because she was just the person to be so cool to hang out with. So that's kind of how our relationship started. Me and a group of our friends used to spend our lunch periods in her office just talking and laughing and just getting to know us 'cause it just felt safe in her room.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVENSON: She wasn't just concerned about me getting good grades. She was concerned about me being a good human being in life for now and when I graduated. So I can tell that just by our conversations and the things she would check up and follow up on. Like, she would always ask me how my mom is doing 'cause my mom was kind of sick - things like that that she didn't have to do 'cause it wasn't school-related.

And she kind of built my confidence up 'cause I was kind of insecure about being smart or the skills that I wanted to have or the goals that I wanted in life. So I can always hear her telling me - like, even today, going into interviews and being in, you know, meetings and things that I didn't think I belonged in, I could always hear her telling me, like, Vanetta, you belong here. You've worked hard to be here. Like, have that confidence in yourself 'cause it's not by accident that you're in this role.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVENSON: You know, like, the other day, I started to text her, and then I realized, like, I'm not going to get a reply. So that's what makes it so hard. But the community that she's built - we just got to lean on it and really step up to the plate for the younger people that didn't really get a chance to know such a great person.

KELLY: That's Vanetta Stevenson, Adam Scott Borel and Britt Whitstein remembering the lives of Paula Pryce-Bremmer, Michael Westbrook and Ron Hill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.