Fourth-grader's death ripples through grief-stricken Halstead Academy

The Baltimore Sun

Andre Simmons Jr. was adept at outsmarting his opponents during football games on the playground, a friend recalled yesterday of the 10-year-old student at the Halstead Academy of Science and the Arts.

Andre, a fourth-grader who died Wednesday, was quick on his feet, said Taiwan Dupye, 10, also a fourth-grader at the school.

"He was good at shaking a player," Dupye said of Andre's ' ability to trick others into thinking he was going to run one way with the ball but at the last minute go another. "I'll always remember the time he couldn't fool me. I'm going to miss playing football with him," Dupye said.

Andre died Wednesday afternoon after falling ill at the school. The boy had trouble breathing about 2 p.m. and was taken by ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital, Baltimore County police said. He was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

Because of Andre's age, police are investigating. Cpl. Mike Hill, a county police spokesman, said yesterday that an autopsy will be performed.

A spokesman for the state medical examiner's office said no information about Andre's death could be released while an "active investigation" is under way.

Taiwan said he recalled Andre's having trouble breathing during a game of football on the playground a few weeks ago.

"He was OK after a few seconds, and we kept on playing," Taiwan said.

The school's principal, Jill A. Carter, said yesterday that she could not discuss whether school officials were aware of any health concerns regarding Andre.

"I'm not at liberty to share any health or academic records regarding any student," she said.

School officials and grief counselors at Halstead Academy, in the Hillendale community just north of the city line and east of Loch Raven Boulevard, spent much of the day helping children and one another cope with Andre's death.

"I can tell you, it was a pleasure having Andre as a student in this school," Carter said. "My staff has experienced a loss, and we're working to just keep ourselves going."

Carter said a letter with information about how parents should talk to their children about Andre's death was sent home with them yesterday.

The school system's traumatic loss team had been at the school throughout the day and would remain as long as the students and staff needed the support, said Laurel Moody, the team's leader and a clinical nurse specialist for the school system.

The traumatic loss team includes school counselors, social workers, student personnel workers, psychologists and nurses, Moody said.

Moody said activities were being used to help students cope, such as talking and creating cards to send to the family.

"We've encouraged students to express their feelings," she said.

Carter and Moody said teachers tried to keep the day as normal as possible. The traumatic loss team made "targeted efforts" for the fourth-grade classes.

Taiwan said many of his friends were in tears yesterday as they reflected on Andre's death. He said a friend saw Andre collapse Wednesday as Taiwan's class was returning to class from recess.

"There was a lot of crying," he said. "I started crying, too, because I lost my friend." Taiwan said he and some friends tried to start a game of football yesterday during recess, "but it wasn't as fun, so we stopped."

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