|When Piet Van Allen died in a motorcycle accident last week in San Jose, it left a gaping hole among the students and faculty at Yew Chung International School, where he had been a teacher for the last school year.
A resident of San Jose, Van Allen died April 14 in an accident on Highway 87 while on his way to work. Fellow teachers say that although Van Allen had worked only a short time at the English-Mandarin immersion school, his enthusiasm and generosity made lasting impressions.
"One of the parents said he was like our school mascot," said preschool director Theresa Hu. "He was the type of person who wound up affecting everyone."
On Thursday, local students, teachers and parents were releasing 200 butterflies in their community garden in memory of Van Allen, the school's art and music teacher. A gardening enthusiast, he put in countless weekend hours planting flowers and vegetables on campus, his colleagues said.
Teachers say Van Allen brought in home-cooked food to the teacher's lounge every day, and also served "Piet's coffee." The lounge is still decorated with the recyclable goods he donated.
"He never took credit for any of those things," said teacher Alex Salzmann, "but, we always knew where they came from."
Carol Underwood, the school's director of development and marketing, said Van Allen quickly became part of the campus family after joining the school. Teachers said Van Allen, who was also a member of the San Jose Opera, was passionate about his job, and always happy while singing.
"He loved to sing when the kids were doing art," Underwood said. "He would light up with excitement.
With approximately 200 students attending the small school, everyone on campus knew Van Allen. He visited each class with his colorful "art cart," decorated with paper flowers, and taught lessons in the preschool even though it was outside of his normal duties.
Located on Easy Street in Mountain View, Yew Chung is a "blended community" of Asian students and non-Asian students who want to learn Mandarin, according to Underwood. The school offers pre-kindergarten to fifth grade classes.
Yew Chung teachers do not use textbooks, but instead consider themselves to be facilitators. Salzmann said that instead of lecturing, lessons are "inquiry based." Van Allen "really embraced this," she said.
"His energy will be carried through us, through living our everyday lives," wrote preschool teacher Hatsue Tsatsos in a letter to other teachers. "We will honor him by appreciating the beautiful things in the world and smiling when we know that Piet would have enjoyed this or that."
According to a press release from Underwood, during an April 24 memorial, after the Voice went to press, Yew Chung students were to release Painted Lady butterflies from envelopes reading, "Whisper a wish for Piet Van Allen and it will be taken to the heavens on the wings of a butterfly and be granted."
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