Students at Allapattah Middle School not only had to prepare for FCAT Writes, but they had to deal with the death of their beloved writing teacher.
Gilfreada Roberson died at 3:50 p.m. Feb. 23, the exact time school was dismissed.
Students learned of her passing on Feb. 25, the same day the school hosted an FCAT Writes Prep rally to memorialize their beloved teacher and to motivate them to do well on the writing test, which was on Feb. 26.
Bridget McKinney, the school’s principal, planned the rally for the eighth graders and challenged them to honor Roberson with high writing scores. Roberson, who had been at the school 27 years, passed away from kidney disease.
“Ms. Roberson called them her butterflies; she saw the beauty in the kids before they saw their own beauty,” said McKinney. “This was a moment to tell them that we did have a tragic loss, but to also channel that energy to show her that they’ve blossomed.”
Roberson’s passing was tough for the school family; she had never taught at any other school. Her mother, Bobbie Roberson, said she was born to be a teacher.
“She understood them,” she said. “She was very tough on students. The funny thing about her, they all end up loving her.”
Gilfreada Roberson was born on Sept. 26, 1964, in Miami. She never married nor had any children. She received her associate’s degree from Miami Dade College and her bachelor’s in language arts from St. Thomas University.
She started teaching at Allapattah Middle School in 1986.
“She was still one of the few teachers who made home visits,” McKinney said.
Roberson’s mother said she was amazed at how her daughter had the patience and love for students, some of whom were troubled or delinquent.
“My daughter was an angel, that’s what everybody called her,” she said. “She was giving and loving, always had a smile on her face.”
In a letter to the school, Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho recognized the passing of the veteran teacher.
“Please express my sincere condolences to your staff and let them know that we here at Miami-Dade County Public Schools collectively mourn Gilfreada’s loss,” he said.
Students had no idea their teacher was sick. She wanted the students to focus on the FCAT, rather than focus on her.
Jasmine Henderson, 13, said Roberson taught her how to organize her writing ideas.
“She was like a role model. She always kept me on topic,” said Henderson. “I would never skip her class or do anything bad there.”
Christopher DeJesus, 15, said the news of his teacher’s passing was shocking.
“It made me feel sad. It made me feel like I lost someone in my family,” he said.
Christopher felt a little nervous about taking the writing test, but the rally motivated him.
“The rally gets me hyped seeing that all my teachers actually want me to pass,” said Christopher.
McKinney enlisted former St. Louis Rams NFL wide receiver Mark Clayton to motivate the students, who greeted Clayton with a roar.
“Even in the mist of what recently happened, prior to that they were putting in all this work, so the biggest thing is to remember the preparation,” said Clayton. “I wanted to encourage the students to know that she would want you to do well. She would be proud of you.”