Alberto Jimenez will always remember that his 10-year-old son, Giovanni Jimenez, overflowed with happiness and friendliness.
"Everybody liked him," said Alberto Jimenez. "He was a happy person always making friends with everyone."
A fourth-grader at White Oak Elementary in Burke, Giovanni Jimenez recently died of leukemia. To honor Giovanni's memory, his classmates planted flowers around a newly planted dogwood tree at school.
Meredith Leigh, 11, remembered Giovanni's happiness as well from last year when they were in the same class.
"He's our friend from last year," she said.
On Thursday, May 1, teachers, students and family members gathered around the garden, shedding tears and remembering their friend.
Assistant Principal Bunny Lancaster credited everyone involved for coming up with the idea for the garden. She spoke about Giovanni at the ceremony.
"It is our day here to remember Giovanni with this tree," she said.
Afterward, Lancaster went through the decision-making process.
"This was a precious opportunity. We will continue to preserve this [garden]. We wanted it to be a living memorial," Lancaster said.
To Alberto Jimenez, the tree will be special, too.
"At least when I see the tree, it will always remind me of him," he said.
GIOVANNI was diagnosed with leukemia on Feb. 26 and died April 1. The diagnosis came suddenly, according to parent liaison Margaret Flynn. Her daughter was also in the fourth grade.
One of the first things students and teachers did at the school was to put up mural paper so everyone could send a message to the Jimenez family. Tears welled up in White Oak counselor Jayne Mejia's eyes as she remembered one note on the mural.
"One girl wrote, 'Please look down on me from heaven,' and she put her address down," Mejia said. "It was so sweet." Student donations paid for the tree, which Azalea Acres in Fairfax supplied at a discounted rate.
"They donated their time to plant it," said Flynn.
"One of the students' fathers works there," said Giovanni's teacher, Sarah Ketcham.
Ketcham talked to the class about the garden. Although it was planted in memory of Giovanni, a plaque is not planned for the garden.
"We've talked about how their flowers are going to symbolize them being with him," Ketcham said.
Mejia talked to students in the weeks preceding Giovanni's death while he was in the hospital.
"When he first got sick, we talked to the class about leukemia," she said.
After his death, a letter was sent home for the parents to counsel their children, and then Mejia visited each classroom, including Giovanni's. His desk remained in the classroom for a while.
"As a counselor, we've been given some guidelines," Mejia said. "I've gone through grief training."
Flynn hopes the tree will be something for the family and the students. "When they walk by, they'll remember, 'That's something I did that will stay.' It's a good way to heal."