Community at loss for words following death of Sparta family

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

    SPARTA-They held a meeting this week, Sparta teachers and school administrators. They talked about what to prepare for when school resumes, next week. What to expect from kids when they come back. What to expect from parents. What to expect from themselves. But most of all, like many n clergy, friends, neighbors, even strangers -- throughout the township this past week, they talked about the Sparta family; Anthony and Beverly Stassi, both 43, and their 10-year-old daughter, Samantha, and her sister, 12-year-old Stephanie. Anthony, Beverly and Samantha were killed in an automobile accident on Christmas Eve on an interstate outside Philadelphia on their way to a holiday gathering in Virginia. Stephanie walked away shaken, but unhurt. And the people in Sparta n those who knew the family, and those who didn't -- will continue to talk some more in the streets, at the grocery store, at the funeral home as the Stassis are laid to rest side-by-side this week; all searching for the right thing to say, the right thing to do. "Who knows what's best," said Dennis Tobin, principal at the Helen Morgan School where Samantha was a fourth-grader. "There's no correct way or great answer to a situation like this. Getting back to school, having the support of one another, will hopefully get us through this difficult situation." Tobin met with his staff and township school officials to determine how best to respond to the tragedy when school commences. He said he has already personally telephoned the parents of all fourth-graders and a letter was sent to all parents at the school notifying them of the deaths of Samantha and her parents. "She was a beautiful little girl, well-liked by all her peers," said Tobin. "Even though we're a large elementary school, we're a close-knit family. It's a tough loss for our staff and students." Tobin said his staff will meet again prior to the resumption of school on Monday and that guidance counselors and the school psychologist will be looking for signs and symptoms of students having difficulty coping with the loss of their classmate. "Everyone is sad over this tragic incident, some students were closer than others," he said. "The most important thing is that our children know they have adults to talk to and console them." Sparta officials have said they expect Stephanie Stassi to return for a few days when school reopens next week, say goodbyes, and leave shortly thereafter to stay with relatives. Linda Nick, the principal at the Sparta Middle School where Stephanie is a sixth-grader, said her students, too, will be struggling with the loss of their classmate's parents and sister, but in a different vein. She said her students may at first be uneasy about approaching their classmate, but will feel so much better once they can at least send a card or note lending support. "We have to take the lead from Stephanie," said Nick. "We'll tell her not to feel uncomfortable; that many classmates won't know what to say. But, they'll eventually want to show as much support as possible." Nick said it was just last week that Stephanie had celebrated her birthday at the school. She said, too, that counselors will be available for both students and staff when school reopens. "Not only are the students sad, but they're afraid that this can happen to them," said Nick. "Parents need to hug their kids a little tighter to get them through this." Arrangements are under the direction of the Goble Funeral Home in Sparta. A representative at the funeral home said in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in the Stassi family name to Saint Jude's Children Hospital, 332 North Lauderdale St., Memphis, Tenn. 38105.