KEARNEY — Jessica Eidem was the kind of person who was quick to volunteer if any of her fellow teachers needed help.
When coworkers need someone to cover bus duty or cover their class — Eidem was there.
When a new teacher wanted some help adjusting to their role — she jumped up to be a mentor.
When another teacher could use help making pancakes for her class — Eidem gave up her planning period to pitch in.
“You know the saying, ‘A leader doesn’t lead from the front, they lead by example?’ This was Jess. She was a leader on our team and in our school. She didn’t have to broadcast it to everyone or show off. She did it humbly and always with grace,” wrote Emily Davidson, Randi Kuhn and Mitch Sanny, who worked as co-teachers with Eidem on Team 7-4 at Horizon Middle School.
Teachers, students, staff and others throughout the Kearney Public Schools district now are mourning the loss of Eidem, a teacher who “loved kids and loved science.”
“That combination made her one of the best teachers I have ever worked with,” Horizon Middle School Principal Cliff Edwards said.
Eidem, 41, died Friday following a car-pedestrian crash Wednesday night when a 16-year-old driver’s vehicle hit the couple. She had been on a walk with her husband, Nate, that evening. He was treated and released from CHI Health Good Samaritan.
This spring, Eidem had finished her 13th year of teaching science at Horizon. She worked at HMS from 2000-2003, then, after moving to Oregon, returned to Kearney to teach at Sunrise Middle School from 2008-2012. She started back at Horizon in 2012.
“I feel lucky to have known Jess,” Principal Edwards said. “She is someone that brightened the hallways of Horizon with her smile. She made everyone around her better.”
Her fellow teachers say Eidem was the kind of teacher to give her all for her students.
During QT Olympics, a field day where homeroom classes compete against each other, she went “all-out.” Once, for a lip sync battle, she dressed up as Napoleon Dynamite.
When students dissected frogs in her science class, a signature lab project for seventh graders, Eidem fried up frog legs, just one way she strived to make her labs as interactive as possible.
“Her dedication to her students was very evident as we watched her pour countless hours into tweaking and creating the perfect lesson,” her teammate teachers wrote. “As a teacher, she saw each student’s potential and held them accountable for their learning.”
It wasn’t uncommon for a former student to return to Horizon to see her. When they did, Eidem often would sit and talk with them for an hour.
Her lasting impact could be seen on the Horizon Middle School sign this weekend.
Saturday afternoon, a poster hung on the sign at HMS saying “We’ll miss you Mrs. Eidem,” signed by Laura, Lexi and Nate. Flowers were placed near the bottom of the sign.
“Jessica was a valued member of our KPS family,” KPS Superintendent Kent Edwards said in a statement. “She was a gifted teacher and an outstanding person who will be greatly missed by our students and staff. We have an experienced crisis team that is available to help those having difficulty dealing with her death. “
As with all staff or student deaths, Kearney Public Schools activated its crisis team in response to Eidem’s passing.
According to KPS Associate Superintendent Jason Mundorf, who co-leads the crisis team with Special Education Director Melisa Dobish, the team helps craft messages to staff and families, and meets with those who may need “solace or comfort” after a tragic event.
The team met at 7:30 Friday morning to communicate with these stakeholder groups, and then opened the doors of the middle school later in the morning for teachers to meet with the crisis team.
The group came together again 5-7 p.m. Friday for students who needed support. Mundorf said several teachers returned to this gathering, as well.
“In these situations, we meet with staff and students just to be a listening ear, and really a shoulder to cry on when needed,” Mundorf said. When students return to school in August, Mundorf said the plan is to have members of the crisis team present at the school for the first few days of the semester, just in case additional feelings are triggered at that time.
Principal Edwards said, “She was everyone’s friend and maybe one of the strongest people I have had the privilege to work with. Jess meant so much to the students and staff. It breaks my heart to think about not seeing her again.”
Her fellow teachers may remember Eidem at lunchtime because she always packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Again, at Christmas, they say they will miss the cookies she baked.
Her teammates wrote: “Jess made me want to be a better teacher and person. She pushed me to be better and do better. She was more than a coworker; she was one of our best friends.
“We’re going to miss her Christmas cookies and seeing her at lunch with her PB&J. We’re going to miss her positive attitude. Most importantly, we’re going to miss our best friend.”