BAY VIEW — Kristen Snyder stood outside Bayview Elementary School every afternoon at dismissal time and said goodbye to her fifth-grade special education students and to other pupils who past by her as they boarded their buses.
Snyder sometimes got on the buses to continue chatting with her students before they departed. She also wanted to make sure they would be OK during the trip to their homes, because some of her students have behavior challenges.
And every so often, Snyder would go above and beyond.
“She would actually ride the bus with the kids in the afternoon sometimes. She just wanted to know that they would be all right,” marveled BVES fifth-grade teacher Karyn Kulp. “She would ride the bus with the children and, after they were all dropped, the bus driver would bring her back to the school.”
Her interaction with those students at dismissal time epitomizes Snyder – the caring, dutiful teacher and the selfless, upbeat person that she was.
Snyder, 26, of Elkton, was killed in a Howard County motorcycle accident on Saturday. She was pronounced dead at the scene of the single-vehicle crash. Her 33-year-old boyfriend, Jamie Charles Zavala, who was operating the motorcycle, remained in critical condition at University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Unit in Baltimore on Thursday.
Love for students
Reeling from the news, her colleagues shared their memories of Snyder with the Cecil Whig this past week. Although Snyder had been teaching there for just shy of three years, she left a wonderful mark at Bayview Elementary School, they say.
“She was just about the brightest light bulb, so energetic, so gregarious, so funny. The kids loved her. The teachers loved her. And she loved them,” said BVES Principal Tony Petinga. “She lit up a room whenever she walked into it.”
Having been reassigned to BVES, along with Assistant Principal Stacey Rominski, Petinga first met Snyder last summer, when she came to the school to welcome them and to offer her help and support, even though she was not required to be there that day.
Ready for challenges, Snyder, despite her young age and only two years of teaching experience at that point, the administrators decided to make her mentor for two new BVES special education teachers. Snyder, a 2012 Rising Sun High School graduate, flourished in that role.
“We have a very young staff. It’s unusual for that kind of thing to happen, because you usually look for more experienced teachers (to serve) as a mentor,” Petinga qualified, before commenting, “She was such a good teacher, and she did so well as a mentor, too.”
Because Snyder interacted with everyone at BVES in her bubbly way – one colleague joked that she could talk “100 miles an hour” — the stories they shared about her and their descriptions of her blended into a collective memory.
“She worked well with everybody and she talked to everybody in the school. She was friends with the custodians. She was friends with the cafeteria workers. She would ask them how they were doing, and she really wanted to know. She always put others before herself,” Kulp said.
Her colleagues recalled that Snyder would buy her students pencils, notebooks and other school supplies out of her own pocket to help them succeed. She also would buy her students food and needed clothes. (BVES is a Title I School, which means it receives federal assistance because it has a higher percentage of students qualified for meal assistance than at other schools.)
Snyder would give students little gifts as incentives, including, for the girls, giving them in-class nail polish treatments.
“She would always try to find a way to encourage the students,” assessed Stephanie Walsh, a BVES fifth-grade teacher.
Snyder frequently ate lunch in the cafeteria with her students, instead of retreating to the teachers’ lounge for a 30-minute respite after being in the classroom with them all morning. Snyder found time to talk to students in the hallways, too.
In addition, she made a point to be present for nighttime school events, even if her students weren’t involved, just to be supportive of them.
Passion for life
“You’re tired at the end of the school day, but Kristen had such enthusiasm and such a passion for the kids that she would come back at night. I remember for the fifth-grade concert, she was so excited to see them in their concert attire,” Walsh said.
After giving that example of Snyder’s perkiness and devotion, Walsh remarked, “Kristen had the most amazing personality. I never heard her say anything negative about anyone. She always could make you smile. You just felt better when you were near her.”
Her colleagues also agreed that Snyder treated her students as if they were her own children, even emailing former students who had advanced to North East Middle School just to see how they were doing in their new environment. Likewise, she was known for calling and emailing parents of her present students, simply to keep a line of communication open.
Love for the less fortunate
Snyder found beauty and value in every person, according to Natalie Nixon, a BVES fourth-grade teacher and a close friend of Snyder’s. And because of that, Snyder’s heart beat even stronger, it seemed, for disadvantaged people, folks faced with an up-hill battle.
“She loved birthdays, and she made a big deal over them. Even with her most difficult students, she always got a birthday card for them and would have every student in the class sign it. She wanted to make that student feel special. It was important to her,” Nixon said.
Along those lines, Nixon noted that a lotus was Snyder’s favorite flower and explained, “A lotus grows in the mud, but it becomes this beautiful flower.”
In addition, Nixon believes that this favorite quote of Snyder’s reflects her positive attitude toward going through life’s trials and tribulations: “Turn your wounds into wisdom.”
Love for people
Snyder seldom came to school empty-handed after grabbing coffee on her way to work. Sometimes she would call ahead to see if anyone wanted to place an order. Other times, she would show up with cups of java and even morning snacks for her colleagues.
“About once a week, there would be Dunkin’ Donuts or Fox Hollow coffee all over the floorboard of her car because it spilled on the way to school,” Kulp chuckled. “She never just thought of herself. She always thought of others in everything she did.”
A couple of other colleagues recalled the recurring spilled-coffee episodes and laughed when speaking to the Whig.
Given her outgoing personality, Snyder was a perfect fit on the school’s social committee, officially called the Heath & Wellness Committee. She helped plan monthly themed parties for teachers, as well as for after-school events for the students, such as Spirit Days and Valentine’s Day Dances.
“We co-hosted the staff (Christmas) Holiday Party. She made sure the decorations were just right and the menu was just right. We played trivia games that she brought. She brought props for the photo booth,” Walsh outlined. “She just wanted to make sure every one had a good time.”
Snyder also was a good cook, something that was clear whenever she contributed to the staff snack table, which wasn’t necessarily part of her social committee duties.
“Her dips were awesome. She was the Queen of Crockpot Dip,” Kulp said.
Also not part of her official duties, Snyder arranged beach trips and pool parties with some of her female colleagues, birthday acknowledgements for staff members and after-school Happy Hours for her fellow teachers.
“She loved planning Happy Hours and things to get people together. Kristen loved people and loved promoting camaraderie,” Walsh said, before summarizing, “Kristen just loved life.”
A teammate and a true friend
Kulp, who has been teaching for 17 years, is among the many BVES staff members hardest hit by Snyder’s untimely death. She and Snyder taught in the same classroom every morning for nearly three years.
Snyder would focus on her mainstreamed special education students during Kulp’s language arts lessons, then Snyder would move to other classrooms in the afternoon to guide her other special education students when different teachers taught math and other subjects. (She also chipped in to help other students in those classrooms, too, as was her way.)
“Our desks have been facing each other for three years. We shared a classroom, and we shared everything,” Kulp said.
Kulp is 41, but despite the 15-year age difference between the two, she and Snyder had a solid connection and a deep bond.
“Kristen always said she was an old soul in a young body,” Kulp said. “She was my teammate and she was my true friend.”
Snyder was excited about earning her tenure as a teacher after this academic year, Kulp said. And she was excited about moving into her first apartment next week, after working three nights a week as a tutor to save the money, Kulp added.
In general, at age 26, Snyder was so excited about her future and what it may hold.
Trying to put the sudden loss of Snyder into some perspective, Kulp reminded herself how much Snyder loved teaching and how much she loved her students.
Then Kulp surmised in a quivering voice, “There must be students in heaven who need her.”