"I felt so sad for the people who died in the shuttle," Guarnizo said. "I wanted to do something to remember them, to keep them in my heart. They were very brave people, going into space like that. I just wanted to write a paper to remember them."
Debbie Morillo, Guarnizo's fourth grade teacher at Anna L. Klein School in Guttenberg, was so touched by Guarnizo's report that she presented it to Klein School Principal Robert Tholen.
"She even wanted to take up a fund for the astronauts' children," Morillo said. "I was stunned. She created the report on her own and wanted to do this on her own. Mr. Tholen recommended that perhaps some kind of tribute could be done on the school's bulletin board."
So Morillo's class went right to work, creating a special tribute to remember the seven astronauts who perished in the Columbia tragedy two weeks ago. The class drew pictures and wrote words, filling the bulletin board with their feelings of sadness, yet gratitude.
"They totally got into it," Morillo said. "They really put their hearts into it."
The bulletin board had adorned a tribute to Port Authority Lt. Robert Cirri, a graduate of Klein School who perished in the World Trade Center tragedy. Students created the tribute to Cirri after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack that affected everyone in the school, but hit close to home when a graduate was lost.
"The students came in and asked if they could use the bulletin board to do their tribute," Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Penna said. "I was very impressed with their initiative. They're a group of good-hearted kids who are deeply committed to patriotism and Americanism. The World Trade Center had a deep affect on them. Seeing another disaster brought out some of the same emotions."
Penna then moved the tribute to Cirri to the school's media center, in order to allow the fourth graders to create their tribute to the fallen space shuttle and its crew.
Guarnizo was the student who drew a picture of the astronauts inside of a heart.
"I wanted to create something to show that we will remember them in our hearts," Guarnizo said. "I wanted to do something more than just write the report. I'm glad we were able to do it."
Classmate Alejandra Toro also wrote a report, in both English and Spanish, to express her feelings.
"I wanted to say something to show how much I missed them," Toro said. "It really helped for me to write it down. I felt really sad when it happened."
The final product was a stunning array of colors and images, including the American flag, the Israeli flag (to honor Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon) and the Indian flag (honoring Indian-born astronaut Kalpana Chawla).
"They paid respect to their heroes," Morillo said. "It was an outlet for their pain. I really think it was so important. It makes them feel like they have a say. They've all been experiencing such a difficult time in their lives, much like all of us have. I think they're trying to understand what's happening. They really did a great job. I'm very proud of them. They did this on their own."
The students had a good feeling of how their project turned out.
"I'm really happy with the way it looks," Guarnizo said. "I never knew it was going to turn out into something like this."
"I feel really proud of myself and my classmates," Toro said. "Some other kids have told us that it's really nice, so that feels good."
Penna was so impressed with the entire project, even if it came in the face of a national tragedy.
"The kids were very creative," Penna said. "It's a very nice tribute. The teacher should be proud. They've really gone the extra mile."