Family, friends of student-teacher fund school playground in her memory

Alexandra Reiss, a junior early childhood education major, died on Dec. 4.

Alexandra Reiss worked as a student leader in Students Helping Owls Understand Temple and a student-teacher at Bayard Taylor School in the Hunting Park area. She died on Dec. 4. | MARY MATTINGLY / COURTESY

Katreena Lloyd-Williams met Alexandra Reiss at a Students Helping Owls Understand Temple program meeting at the beginning of Fall 2018 where students registered with the Disability Resource Services office talked about the challenges they faced on campus and offered advice to each other.  

Lloyd-Williams, a senior Greek and Roman classics double major, just observed the conversation at first. Then, Reiss started talking to her, Lloyd-Williams said. 

“Maybe she thought that I was shy or nervous,” said Lloyd-Williams, who now organizes SHOUT meetings.  “She’d started talking to me and it definitely made me want to be more open and chatty.”

Reiss, who is remembered by friends and family as compassionate,  unapologetic, and warm, was found dead in her apartment on Dec. 4.  She was 32.

The junior early childhood education major, in addition to being a student leader at SHOUT, worked as a student-teacher for second and third graders at Bayard Taylor School in the Hunting Park area. 

She also enjoyed writing poetry, said Mary Mattingly, her mother.

Reaching out to new or quiet student leaders in SHOUT was not unusual for Reiss, said Emily Trott, a senior human development and community engagement major and SHOUT student leader.

“She would always go up to the people who were new, or she would be the one talking to the people who may not feel comfortable yet,” Trott said.

Since Reiss cared for her students, Mattingly has asked friends and family to donate to a Bayard Taylor School playground funding campaign to honor Reiss.  

“She would always tell me stories about her students and was always there for them,” Trott said.

Bayard Taylor currently has no playground equipment in the yard of their annex building where first and second graders have recess, according to the school’s fundraising campaign website.  Bayard Taylor School is under-resourced, said Susan Willson, Temple’s Disability Resource Services Student Coordinator and a faculty advisor for SHOUT.

 “She talked to me so much about how she felt like she grew up in schools that were well resourced,” said Willson. “It wasn’t hard for her to be in a school that was under-resourced.”

“She felt very lucky but she was just super compassionate and aware of that,” added Willson.

Bayard, which nearly shuttered in 2013 as reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, previously launched an online funding campaign to raise money to purchase playground equipment for its first- and second-grade students. Hours after Mattingly’s announcement, Bayard’s $16,835 online campaign was fully funded with many donations in Reiss’s name, Mattingly said. The funding campaign exceeded its goal by $200.  

Bayard plans on putting the extra funds toward a buddy bench with a plaque that will honor Reiss, Mattingly said.

Reiss found her passion for teaching when she came to Temple University in 2017, Mattingly said. In addition to her work at Bayard Taylor, Reiss volunteered as a writing teacher with Mighty Writers, a nonprofit that provides free writing programs to children aged two through 17 across Philadelphia.  

“The College of Education community was devastated to learn of the passing of Ms. Alexandra Reiss,” wrote Annemarie Hindman, the coordinator of the Early and Elementary Teacher Education Program in the College of Education, in an email to The Temple News.

“Her teachers, colleagues, and peers knew her as a very bright, friendly, hard-working, and dedicated young teacher,” Hindman wrote. “She will be very missed by all of us. Our hearts go out to her family.” 

Since Reiss’s passing, College of Education students and faculty have been sending donations to Mighty Writers in her name, Hindman wrote.

Reiss also worked as a sensitivity reader of children’s books for publishing company HarperCollins. She proof-read children’s books to make sure that they were appropriate for the age groups they targeted, Trott said.

“She was just a voice, an ally for kids,” said Leah Moyers, a junior psychology major and student leader in SHOUT.

 “I’m thankful that we got to know her and that she had us and this community,” Moyers added.

“Her presence was so accepting,” said Willson. “There’s no processing this. It’s just so sad. I felt like I could handle everything and then this happened.”

Early in the spring semester, SHOUT plans on holding a book drive for the Bayard School in honor of Reiss.  The group has not yet announced a date for the book drive.

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