Benton students mourn loss of classmate

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Students at Benton High School recently planted a crapemyrtle tree on campus in memory of classmate Maritza Tovar-Chavez, 17, who passed away unexpectedly in April.

Students at Benton High School are slowly coming to terms with the sudden loss of a classmate.

Zoey Hill remembers the last day she saw Maritza Tovar-Chavez. The two had been friends since middle school and that final day was like any other day at school. For Hill, nothing seemed out of place.

The next day, Maritza was gone. The 17-year-old high school junior passed away unexpectedly April 29, 2015.

“We don’t know what happened and we may never know what happened,” school counselor Monica Lauterbach said.

As part of the coping process, students and faculty planted a tree just outside the science building. Hill said it’s the perfect spot because Maritza really liked math and science.

“She was always serious about what she did. She wasn’t big on these kinds of things either, but I think she would like this,” Hill said.

Principal Mitch Downey said a bench will eventually be placed next to the crapemyrtle tree, which was donated by Akins Nursery in Shreveport. He hopes students will utilize the space as a place to find peace.

He also urged students to carry on Maritza’s memory in a way she would have wanted – through their actions.

“The best way for us to honor her is to continue to treat people in a manner that she would – with dignity, kindness and empathy,” he said. “We have an opportunity to spread her message and live by her example. I think that’s the greatest tribute we can give her.”

Maritza was very involved at Benton High School. She was a member of SADD, INTERACT, FCA, Spanish Club and the Engineering Club. She was also a member of Homecoming/Prom committees, Yearbook Editor, Ring staff, National Honor Society, Academic rally participant, STEM scholar, and producer of the Spanish Club movie.

Outside of the classroom, Maritza was a member of the soccer, cross country and track teams. She was a Girls State nominee, Regional Young Author’s Contest winner  in 2013, a published author for Vita Latina Magazine, an intern for The Robinson Film Center, and Benton High School’s representative for JAWS (Journalists Aspiring to Work in Sports) in conjunction with the Tim Fletcher show and Friday Football Frenzy, writing about football games and taking photos.

Through all the athletics and extracurricular activities, Maritza maintained a 4.0 grade point average.  Coach Frank Trammel said Maritza was the kind of student that just wanted to be part of your life.

“Her greatest contribution [to Benton High School] was her mission to serve others,” Trammel said. “She was always willing to give back and always thought of others before herself. That’s what we’ll miss most about her.”

Counselors will remain available to students who are grieving. Lauterbach said next school year will be much more difficult because it would’ve been Maritza’s senior year.

“This is not something that’s going away. It’s going to take a while for them to heal,” she said. “Next year, they will see things she was involved in, but she’s not here. There are so many circle of friends impacted by this.”

Lauterbach also encouraged students to view the tree as a positive addition to Benton High School.

“When you look at the tree, think about Maritza and the difference she has made on our campus and on our lives.”