The garden, which was planted in early November, was in memory of beloved sixth grade teacher Katie Gayeski, who died over the previous summer.
After the school's first tribute of planting a memorial tree, the Gayeski family worked with the school on the garden project and selected a group of students from Gayeski's classes to participate.
Now the garden has come to life, and Gayeski's memory is as vibrant as ever in the hearts of her family both at home and at Robert Waters.
"She cared about our kids, she was creative, and taught outside of the box, but the most important thing to her was the students," said Bruce Naszimento, principal of Robert Waters.
"I remember the hugs, her smile, and her laughter which filled the room," said Courtenay Higgens, Gayeski's older sister. "She was a wonderful woman, and what she would do for you just to bring a smile to your day; that's what I miss more than anything."
Born in Hackensack, Gayeski was one of six brothers and sisters.
"We're very proud of our big family," said Higgens. "There is nothing we wouldn't do for each other, and we were each others best friend. It was almost like a club how we lived our lives."
Higgens also remembers that from the time her sister was born she had always faced unique struggles in her life, and worked twice as hard to get what she needed. As a newborn she was very small, so small that her grandmother, affectionately known as nana, nicknamed her "Tiny Treasure," and Gayeski was a treasure to those who came her way.
In the first grade, Gayeski was diagnosed with dyslexia, and at that time not many teachers were aware of proper methods to help her. Her struggle though it inspired her passion for teaching. Gayeski vowed to herself that she would not let other children experience similar struggles.
The makings of a teacher
After high school, Gayeski attended East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. It was there she met two of her good friends who also became her colleagues at Robert Waters - Julia Klein and Lyndsay Fielder.
"She was my first college roommate, and we remained roommates for seven years," said Fielder. "She was the same in college, a jovial freshman, and always made everyone feel comfortable. Katie was the life of the party."
Throughout her four years at college, Gayeski always played the role of nurturing teacher with her friends or anyone who she could help. Fielder credits her with first inspiring her to become a teacher.
"I was undeclared and I got so turned on to teaching because of her energy," said Fielder. "She loved it and that inspired me to be a part of it."
Towards the end of school, one of the three women had found a teaching opportunity at Robert Waters, and they all went out for it together.
"We gave them the impression that you take one of us, you take all of us; together we knew we couldn't fail," said Fielder.
It had turned out that they were correct. All three women were hired as teachers at Robert Waters School in 2002, and found an apartment together nearby.
Gayeski, who became the sixth grade teacher for language arts, quickly made a name for herself at Robert Waters. She even worked closely with Principal Naszimento, giving him suggestions for improvements around the school. From her colleagues to the students, she captured everyone with charm, creativity and dedication.
"She would take the difficult students, she would ask for them," said Naszimento. "She was honest and she loved her children."
Everything seemed to have been going well for Gayeski. She was even looking for a house with her soon to be fiancé and just planning her future. She was also looking forward to her first sixth grade class graduating from Robert Waters (they are now eighth graders).
At the end of the school year, students left messages on the board wishing her a good summer and saying that they looked forward to seeing her next year.
Sadly, about a week after school, Gayeski went into the hospital when she suddenly became very ill. The details surrounding her death are still incomplete, but what has been explained is that Gayeski had died as a result of a rare blood disease known as Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP), which may have led to an infection that quickly spread through her body. She died that same day, July 2.
The following week, the Gayeski family held her funeral and wake in Hackensack, which was attended by 1,500 people including friends, students and colleagues.
"We were in awe at the amount of love and support from the members of the community," said Higgens. "So many of them had unique stories about how my sister touched their lives, and it was very moving to our family to see her students attend the funeral because in them is her legacy."
"She was such a big part of everyone's life, and you can feel her absence," said Fielder. "It's really hard to find true friends, and I'm very grateful that we did cross paths."
For her memorial garden at Robert Waters, Frank Gayeski and some of his children came in to the school and taught a few classes in schematics and scales for the garden. The students who remember her fondly did a majority of the work themselves.
"I miss her. I used to talk to her a lot," said Levy Perez, an eighth grader. "She always gave us fun projects. Sometimes we never had a book open. She would just explain things through her actions."
"When we were sad, she always knew how to make us laugh, and she would help us if we were ever in trouble," said Leslie Jativa, eighth grade.
Always in bloom
Gayeski's father also taught them about the type of flowers that are best for planting, and about working with the weather elements. The kids planted the garden in October in commemoration of Gayeski's birthday, and now the first flowers have come alive.
The garden will continue to bloom different flowers throughout the year, so it's always in bloom.
"There is incompleteness that I'm not sure will ever be filled, but each of us carries her with us now in different ways," said Higgens.
Gayeski's family has also set up the Katie Gayeski Memorial Fund in her honor, and are trying to set up a student scholarship. Anyone wishing to make donations can send them care of John Gayeski 550 Broad Street, Suite 804 Newark, NJ 07102.
For more information, or to learn about other ways to support the Katie Gayeski Memorial Fund, contact them by email at email@example.com, or by faxing them at (908) 302-1048.