Beloved Lanikai Teacher remembered with paddle out
KAILUA- (Hawaii News Now)- Students went straight from school to Kailua Beach today to decorate canoes for a paddle out to remember their beloved teacher Joanna O'Neill.
The flowers were all hand picked from homes, or Lanikai Elementary. That's where O'Neill taught 5th and sixth grade Social Sciences for 6 six years before she lost her battle one week ago with a brain tumor.
Students and staff are devastated. "We're all really upset" said former student Mia Shelbourne. "She was always full of life and always really happy. All of our favorite teacher."
"She really meant a lot to me" adds Mitchell Quinn. "She was one of my favorite teachers so I had to come out."
Art Teacher Kristi Petosa-Sigel says O'Neill had a spark and joy in her eyes that the kids loved. "She was just one of those favorite teachers that connected with the kids. She was creative and funny with them. She'd tell jokes. It was so inspiring watching her coming in just putting the hat on, her hair was falling out, and she's like you almost can't tell. She still was just beautiful and funny."
The 47 year old kept a brave face till the end for students and her son Casper.
Petosa-Sigel says the school saw a sign the day after she died. She recalls, "The kids had just gotten out of school and we had this rainbow all around the sun and it was like you know, she's okay."
Her school ohana, family, and community members will paddle out in Joanna's memory.
"I know the Facebook word has gone out and there will be a lot of people to celebrate her" says teacher Barb VanDerKamp. "We'll be there with the canoe to lead the way and sprinkle the flowers. It will be nice. Really beautiful."
"I think it's what she would have wanted" says her former student Mia Shelbourne. "She loved her students as if we were her own kids. I think that she really likes that we're all here and we're all just like one happy family."
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