Jennie Emery students, staff rally for family

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The staff and students at Jennie Emery Elementary School in Coaldale are rallying to support one of their families following a fatal rollover near Fernie, B.C. Dec. 1.

Kunthea Altvater was killed when her family’s minivan left the Highway west of Fernie, and overturned into the Elk River. Her husband, Richard, and three children, all of whom attend Jennie Emery Elementary, were in the vehicle at the time.

Eldest child, Rachelle, a Grade 2 student, suffered minor injuries along with their father Richard. The two younger boys were hospitalized for several days. Principal Sherrie Nickel says students and staff are missing the children. Rachelle is a cheerful and friendly grade 2 student. She has a love of art and is always working on a masterpiece anytime she has a free moment in class.

Alexander attends a Tuesday/Thursday kindergarten class at Jennie Emery.  He is a thoughtful and kind boy who loves to be at school. Everyone is wishing him well and looking forward to his return. He was released from the hospital on Monday.

Benjamin attends the Early Learning Program two mornings a week. He is a beloved part of the program, a sweet and kind bright-eyed, four-year- old. He remains in hospital in Edmonton. We are all cheering for his speedy recovery, Nickel says.

She says the staff was together for a school professional development day on Monday, Dec. 2, when news came about the Altvater family. With support from Palliser Central Office and the school’s family school liaison counsellor, they talked about how to share the news with students.

Tuesday, Dec. 3, the school had very few students because of the blizzard, so staff shared the news Wednesday with each classroom teacher providing a unified message and giving students an opportunity to express their feelings in their own way. Nickel says some students drew pictures, wrote notes or made cards. Counselling support was available for any students and staff who needed assistance dealing with the tragic news.

At the regularly scheduled assembly on Friday, the students and staff were asked to continue to send their love and keep the Altvater family in their thoughts.

Staff and some parents are planning meals and other supports for Richard when the family returns to Coaldale, Nickel says, and a community group in the Altvater’s neighbourhood are also collecting gift cards and organizing other assistance for the family.

A trust fund, in the name of the children’s grandfather Norbert Altvater, is accepting donations at RBC Royal Bank. With no Royal Bank in Coaldale, the school has offered to accept donations from anyone in the Coaldale community who’d like to help.

NOTE: Earlier version of this story had an incorrect name on the account. Fund is in the name of Norbert Alvater. Updated 2:32 p.m., Dec. 10.