Against a gray sky, balloons twisted in the wind and floated high above Amboy on Thursday.
Just moments before those red, black and white balloons were released, more than 100 students, faculty and staff at Amboy High School gathered in the parking lot after classes for the day had ended.
Principal Joshua Nichols told them how proud he was of them for the way they had handled a week in which one of their teachers was lost.
Mike “Paz” Pasley, 47, who had taught social studies at the high school for 10 years, died unexpectedly Sunday at KSB Hospital in Dixon.
Counselors and clergy members were on hand Monday for those who needed them. The school also brought in a substitute teacher in case any teachers felt the need to step out at any time.
“You’ve taken a tragedy, you’ve taken it in,” Nichols said. “You’ve handled it better than I thought could happen. When I saw how well all of you were dressed today for the service, I was very impressed.
“Thank you. Thank you for everything you’ve done this week. I appreciate it.”
After Nichols spoke, the group that had gathered raised the balloons and released them. After what Nichols described as a “rough” week, there was laughter as the students, faculty and staff watched the wind grab the balloons and carry them away.
Some of the balloons floated farther and farther into the sky, while a few others got caught on power lines.
Those caught balloons, to senior Alicen Etheridge, represented the memories of Pasley not ready to leave the school.
It was Etheridge’s idea to organize the balloon release. She remembered a balloon release from when her father died, and approached school administrators about organizing one for this week.
Etheridge was the only senior in a class of freshmen that Pasley was teaching.
“It’s been quiet,” she said of her class and the atmosphere in the school. “We mourned as one this week.”
Earlier Thursday, four school buses took students and staff from Amboy High School to St. Patrick Church in Dixon for a memorial service.
Nearly 200 students, including 18 choir members, made the trip, Nichols said.
Counselors were on hand at the high school when the students returned from the service. But Nichols dismissed them after a while, he said, because the students were coping with the loss of their teacher, the day and the week in their own ways.
“It’s been a tough few days, but staff and students have gotten through it,” Nichols said. “Couldn’t have done it without them.”