October 21 was an emotional day at Waterford High School. Many students were still reeling from the shock of learning that their friend and former classmate, 18-year-old , had died in a car crash the day before.
“For many kids, this is their first experience with tragedy,” said Waterford High School Principal Don Macrino. As educators, he said, their job now was to try to teach students how to mourn.
The school day began with a moment of silence for Sterenchock, which was followed by a series of tributes. Though this recent Waterford High graduate’s life was tragically cut short, her list of accomplishments was long indeed.
“She was really a remarkable kid,” said Macrino. “And her main focus was to help others.”
Sterenchock’s volunteer work took her far and wide. Sterenchock had led Kid’s Club in Anchorage, Alaska, and on the Pine Ride Reservation in South Dakota. In Toronto, Canada, she supervised and taught at a school for mentally and physically handicapped adults.
Sterenchock loved kids and much of her volunteer work involved being a mentor for younger children. She had tutored at Clark Lane, was a peer leader for Kids in Command, (a drug and alcohol prevention program offered by Waterford Youth Services), and taught at Christ Lutheran Church’s Vacation Bible School.
“I consider my helpfulness to be my greatest strength,” Sterenchock wrote in a resume she had prepared for college. “I am always trying to help people in whatever way I can, and always in an unobtrusive manner. I help when I am asked or when I see fit to help without degradation or making it look like charity, because I get satisfaction from making other people’s lives better.”
Helping Students Cope
To help students deal with their emotions, the school offered the services of two grief counselors. But that’s not where most of the students who were really struggling turned to for help on Friday. They ended up in the rooms of two teachers who had been particularly close to Sterenchock, who decided to open up their classrooms as safe harbors for students.
In English teacher Kimberly Thibeau’s classroom, students wearing red ribbons in memory of Sterenchock arrived in a fragile state. As the day wore on, however, their tears gradually gave way to shared memories and smiles as they covered the white board with their thoughts and feelings.
Collectively, they decided to make a card of condolence for the family. What started out as a card turned into a booklet as students covered more and more pages with thoughts about their friend, Sam.
Thibeau had a hard time holding back her own tears recalling how Sterenchock had been both a mentor and a friend to her own daughter. “She was so kind and big-hearted,” she said. Thibeau’s son learned to dance the tango with Sterenchock, she added, and he sang his first duet on stage with her too.
As a freshman Sterenchock was very shy, Thibeau recalled, yet she shone in the spotlight. Sterenchock was in so many WATERFORDrama productions: The Pajama Game, Spotlight Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, to name just a few. Her performance in A Piece of My Heart, however, was the one Thibeau remembers best.
“Her performance of A Piece of My Heart was so moving,” Thibeau said. “She was lovely in the best sense.”