by Aimee Lewis
& Stephanie Barnett
As we approach the one month anniversary since the tragic loss of former Reedley High School teacher Erin Bray, two of her former students share some memories of their teacher and friend.
Aimee Lewis-Freshman at Reedley College
Erin Bray was not only my teacher or just my friend; she was one of my closest friends. My freshmen year was hard on me because I had been home schooled since I was old enough to go to school, and so I was very nervous. My first class was Drama with Ms. Bray. Ms. Bray cared enough to get to know me and find out why I was so nervous to be in high school. She would push me to go and talk in front of the class. She’s the reason why I’m comfortable being on stage, or talking in a large group.
Ms. Bray was also one of the only teachers, or staff for that matter, that honestly cared for her students and trusted them. Unfortunately, some of these students would take advantage of this fact, but I still remember all the times she let us stay in her classroom after she left so we could paint a mural on her wall. I also remember when I would go to her class just to talk to her, and we would talk for a long time—either about our problems, or just about anything. That’s how I know that Ms. Bray cared. She didn’t mind us just going to her to talk.
Throughout the three years that I knew her, I found out that Ms. Bray and I were very similar. We were both city people living in a small town, we both loved teaching and Criminal Psychology, but most of all, we both loved performing. That was one of the topics that always came up, because Ms. Bray was, and always will be, a drama nerd just like me, and all of the other drama students that were close to her.
Just this last September, my best friend Stephanie Barnett, and I, stayed at Ms. Bray’s house while she went to Europe for two weeks. I know that going to Europe was one of Ms. Bray’s dreams, and I’m so glad she was able to go and have, what I heard was a very good time.
When I found out about Ms. Bray’s death, it shocked me. It hit me hard the first night, but didn’t hit me again until that Monday, when Reedley High had a moment of silence in her honor. We all got into a circle and talked about Ms. Bray and how much she was cared for at the school. I looked around at all the faces as everyone was crying. So many people loved Ms. Bray and I know that we will all miss her. That was also shown at the memorial that we had for her at Reedley High, where student D.J. Reimer gave a speech, and the RHS Madrigals Choir sang Seasons of Love from one of her favorite musicals, RENT.
Stephanie Barnett and I were supposed to meet up with her to get some coffee at Starbucks, one of her favorite places, but unfortunately, we were never given the opportunity. I will always miss you, Erin Bray. You will forever be my inspiration.
By Stephanie Barnett-Freshman at Reedley College
Many people have been influenced at least once in their life by someone of great importance to them. For me, that person was, and still is Erin Bray. I first met Ms. Bray through my older sister when I was in middle school. She seemed like such an amazing person that I hoped right away that I would get to be in one of her classes.
Freshman year I joined Drama Club, then Forensics, and soon got to know Ms. Bray. My favorite class of the day was forensics, second period. It was there where I soon became a fellow coffee addict, I even had a penguin coffee cup I kept there that she gave me junior year.
No matter what was happening in my life, Ms. Bray seemed to know just the right things to say to make me feel better. My junior to senior year, I was struggling immensely with a variety of personal issues. I would come to class upset, sometimes even crying and she would pull me aside and take time out of her day to talk me through whatever I was going through. Even on a good day, she would ask me how I was doing and brighten my day with her sunny personality.
Junior year my group asked her if we could re-decorate her room, and without hesitation, she agreed. We put up a “canvas” if you will and went to town. For the next few weeks, we spent Friday afternoon in her classroom joking around, singing along to loud show tunes and drinking a lot of coffee. Eventually the individual paintings came together. In the very center was a giant Starbucks logo, then an old “Hollywood land” sign, a Celtic Claddagh ring in the corner like the one she wore, quotes from our many hilarious Forensics trips, and so much more. It screamed “This is Erin Bray’s Room”.
Erin Bray was a huge influence on the lives of so many. I honestly can say that she helped me become the person I am today. My senior year I had no idea what I wanted to do. I thought, “I’ll go to a Junior College and figure it out there.” She knew how much I was struggling and I always tried to talk with her before or after class for a while. Eventually I started to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I saw how much she loved her students, and how she was always there for them. She wasn’t just a teacher that got up if front of the classroom and droned on for the entire class not caring. She honestly tried to get to know her students, and help them out in not just her class, but all of their classes. She created for me and for so many others a safe haven and a place to go away from unkind words and difficult times. I could not have gotten by in High school without her kind words, and endless amounts of advice.
I knew from then on out that I wanted to teach, that I wanted to help others, like she helped me. I now plan to go on to teach, all because of her. I would not be here today if not for her. So many others that I have talked to have similar stories. “She helped me in my darkest times” or “She always knew exactly what to say and how to say it” and most often “You couldn’t help but smile when she did”. Erin Bray affected those who knew her in ways that many of us don’t even know. Possibly, in ways she was even unaware of. We all mourn the loss of such an amazing life. But one thing that I learned from Ms. Bray was that even in the darkest times, something good will eventually come. She may not be here anymore, but her spirit, and her unending influence will never fade, and lives she touched will forever be changed.
I’m reminded of one of the posters that she had in her classroom, the one for The Dead Poets Society. A movie about an English Teacher, Mr. Keating who despite all odds taught his students more than just poems, but also about love, friendship, and above all else to follow your dreams no matter what others may say. To do what you love, because you love it and nothing more. At one point in the movie when Mr. Keating is leaving the school, his students stand on the desk and show their loyalty and love for him by yelling “Oh Captain, My Captain!” Well, Erin Bray was my, well, OUR Mr. Keating, and she will always be our Captain.
You can read Erin’s obituary here at KRL.
Please feel free to comment on this article and share more memories of Erin with us.