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Boston Marathon victims: Preschool teacher who's never off-duty

April 17, 2013|By Maeve Reston
  • Maryland preschool teacher Erika Brannock, who was among those seriously injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, with one of her students, 2-year-old Meg Riley Ruopp, in February.
Maryland preschool teacher Erika Brannock, who was among those seriously…

Two-year-olds can be touchy about big changes in their lives, and no one knows that better than 29-year-old Erika Brannock. So before the preschool teacher left the Baltimore area to watch her mother run the Boston Marathon, she sent a note to the parents of all her students letting them know she’d be gone for a few days, but would fly back Monday night.

Brannock, who was among those critically injured in the bombings at the Boston race, is like that. She will text parents at 11 p.m. to remind them about a permission slip or tool needed for the next day’s class. She was attuned to the anxieties of working moms, knowing that texting them a picture from the classroom could ease their minds. Even in the hours before the marathon—while on vacation—Brannock emailed one parent to assure her that she would check her child's backpack pocket for sunscreen as soon as she returned to school.

But like hundreds of others in Boston on Monday, Brannock was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She and her sister Nicole were waiting to greet their mother at the finish line when the bombs went off.

Nicole has broken bones. Brannock’s brother-in-law was severely burned and was treated for lacerations.

But Brannock’s injuries were far more serious: Doctors amputated her left leg below the knee and were tending to severe wounds on her right leg Tuesday. Her mother reported on Facebook that Brannock had undergone two surgeries and had many more to go.

Friends and parents of the children in Brannock’s class knew something was wrong when they didn’t hear from her in the hours after the blast.

On Tuesday, they were setting up a fund to help pay for her medical care, educational and living expenses after her return home.  Brannock was one year from finishing her master’s degree in early childhood education, said Liz Harlan, the former director of the Trinity Episcopal Children’s Center in Towson, Md., where Brannock teaches.

“She had everything in line. She was balancing full-time work and school, and doing everything she could on the side to support families, to babysit, to nanny,” Harlan said. Some of the extra work helped her pay her way through school, Harlan said, “but she would have done it all for free.”

Maureen Van Stone, an attorney specializing in early childhood education whose daughters attend the school, said Brannock has taught there for four years. She was initially hired as a teacher who would float among classes and assist wherever needed, Van Stone said. During that time, Brannock surprised parents by getting to know every one of the more than 135 students and their families. This year, she was thrilled to become a lead teacher of the youngest class, made up of 2-year-olds.

At the start of the school year, Van Stone said she had a lot of anxiety about dropping off her daughter Meg "to some other woman."

"But I never, ever, ever doubted once that she was going to provide this loving, caring role in Meg’s life," Van Stone said.  

During one of Van Stone's recent work trips, Brannock sought to put her at ease by sending a picture of Meg with her best friend after Brannock had styled their hair to look like Princess Leia’s in "Star Wars." 

“The whole mantra is that teachers are overwhelmed,” Van Stone said. “She would just stop and capture the moment and send it to a working mom” with a message like, “'You’re away. I know it’s hard.” In all her years working in early childhood education, Van Stone said, she had never “encountered anyone like this woman.” 

Harlan hired Brannock to work at a new preschool after observing her skills in the classroom—where she said Brannock instinctively knew when a child needed to nestle into her lap or take a walk down the hall to avoid a meltdown. In those instances, Harlan said, she was “the most nurturing and patient faculty member you could come across.”

“Her ability to pull out and identify the strengths each child has—honestly,  she’s got a gift,” Harlan said. When the new preschool starts in the fall, Harlan added, “she hopefully will be with us.” 

Twitter: @MaeveReston

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