The School No. 4 community gathered on May 6 to remember kindergarten student Sofia Thomas, who died in November. An electronic display sign paid for with donations made in Sofia’s honor was dedicated to her memory.
By Gary Miller
School No. 4 lost a young student to tragedy last November, but Sofia Thomas left a lasting impression on the hearts of students, staff and community.
Now there is a visible memorial that will be reminder of her impact on the school for years to come.
School No. 4 held a moving and emotional dedication ceremony on Monday, May 6, for a new electronic display board in the front of the school, with an inscription reading “In Loving Memory of Sofia K. Thomas, Kindergartener 2018, She Loved People and Learning.”
The sign was purchased with donations gathered through a GoFundMe page in Sofia’s memory after she died tragically along with her grandmother, Mariamma Thomas, in a motor vehicle accident on Nov. 8.
Dozens of friends, family, school staff and community members gathered in front of the school for the dedication ceremony. They heard memories of Sofia as an outgoing, happy, and intelligent girl who loved School No. 4.
“I look out and see so many people who Sofia loved,” Sofia’s mother, Tini Thomas, said during the ceremony. “She loved her community, she loved her school, she loved her teachers, she loved her friends. And so we decided to put all of our energies toward getting that sign board. And within a matter of days, pennies came in from heaven. They became hundreds and thousands of dollars. And the sign board went up.”
The GoFundMe page raised $13,000, which was used to buy the sign. The School No. 4 Parent Teacher Organization purchased the memorial engraving and landscaping. The Linden Public Schools Maintenance Department helped with the installation and creation of a flower bed.
“Sofia and her family have left a lasting impression on me personally and professionally,” said Principal Anthony Cataline. “I know how much she was loved. Together we share fond memories of Sofia, which are etched in our hearts and our minds forever.
“I and the entire School 4 community are appreciative of Sofia’s family and friends, who donated this electronic message board in her memory. She will never be forgotten.”
Also speaking at the ceremony were Vice Principal Suzanne Olivero, Mayor Derek Armstead, Pre-K teacher Christine Principato, and Pastor Peter J. Hegel and Karin J. Rumbauskas of the Oasis Christian Centre in Rahway, where Sofia and her family are members.
“I am honored and privileged to have been Sofia’s Pre-K teacher,” Principato told the gathering. “She touched many people around her, her classmates, administrators and other teachers here at School 4. She had quite an impact on her class and on me. Sofia is not physically here today, but her memory lives on in our hearts forever. We will miss you Sofia.”
School No. 4 music teachers Lisa Mallick and Katherine Thode performed a moving version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on keyboard and flute.
Several other family members and friends – including young children – spoke about what a wonderful girl Sofia was and the impact she left on them.
Superintendent of Schools Danny A. Robertozzi was in attendance at the ceremony and was moved by the testimonials.
“This was such a nice way to remember Sofia,” he said. “It’s obvious from those who knew her best what an amazing young lady she was. I’m happy that the family and our district were able to work together to install the memorial, which will ensure that students will know of her impact for years to come.”
Pastor Hegel said the inscription on the sign is a perfect fit for Sofia.
“She was such a loving, sweet girl who always had a smile. She loved people,” he said. “This is truly the legacy that Sofia leaves behind. And it’s a challenge to all of us. Many of us need to smile more. Many of us need to love more. Many of us need to hug our kids more. To be mindful if someone lacks and ask, ‘Can I help?’ That’s was what Sofia would do. This is what Sofia was all about.
“And because of her, I’m a better person today.”