Peoria teacher honored after first-grader's death

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Outside Vistancia Elementary School, there's a growing memorial for Luke Smith, who died two weeks ago from a respiratory illness. As the memorial stands outside the school, an emotional ceremony took place inside.

Smith's first-grade teacher, Rachel MacDonald, was nominated Fulton Homes' "Teacher of the Week."

"This award seems especially fitting for her right now considering what our school and community has gone through recently," said Jenee Porter, a Vistancia parent.

She broke down as she read a letter she wrote nominating MacDonald.

"As Luke's teacher, Mrs. MacDonald was undoubtedly facing a great deal of sadness and grief herself. However, she remained at school every day and loved and supported the children who were there and made sure they were cared for and tended to in their grieving," Porter read.

MacDonald was humbled by the nomination and admits Luke's passing took a tremendous toll. She says she knew she needed to be strong, though.

"When you've loved a child and worked with a child and you lose them that way, it's difficult, but you still have all these other children that still need you," she said.

MacDonald has been honored for her commitment to students numerous times throughout her teaching career. She says the greatest honor is knowing Luke's passing has brought Vistancia even closer.

"I think the community can just be stronger for it, so they hope that it never happens again," she said. "But if it ever happened to them, they would know that their neighbors would care for them and would support them and do everything they could to help them in that situation."

The Maricopa County Department of Health has not released the name of the disease that killed Luke. School officials say they are confident that all of the other students are safe.

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