Teacher killed in Outer Banks crash ‘lit up the room’

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- Like many South Anna Elementary parents, Justine Atkinson finds herself in a new and tough situation.

She and her husband are now focused on helping their daughter process the sudden death of one of her favorite 5th grade teachers, who Atkinson says was excellent at her job.

“She was hilarious. She made learning fun,” Atkinson said, referring to Holly Nicolette.

She taught fourth and fifth graders for thirteen years at South Anna Elementary School in Montpelier.

Nicolette and her husband were killed this week as they walked on the shoulder of the road in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Atkinson and other parents, grappled to find the right way to tell their children. They even shared articles about helping children cope with death.

“I knew she adored this teacher and telling her would be hard, and it was. I didn’t want to cry, but we did. When we started talking about it, it was just raw and real,” Atkinson added.

Lauren Paynter’s son Aiden was a former student in Nicolette’s class.

He wrote a tribute calling Mrs. Nicollette a terrific teacher and an even better person. He remembered her as the cool teacher that every student wanted.

“Her kind words and sense of humor made her students smile as they walked in the door. She should be commended for her dedication to teaching our generation of students how to be successful in the future,” Aiden continued.

Paynter knows the loss of the beloved teacher is devastating for so many students.

“I understand the present students in her class will probably have a tough time going back into the class. I feel like our school is doing what should be done to come together to make sure families and children have support,” Paynter said.

As parents prepare their students to go back to school, experts with Camp Comfort Zone offered some advice.

  • Explain to children that this tragedy doesn’t make sense to adults and may not make sense to them.
  • Validate that your child’s feelings are normal and justified.
  • Tell them you will get through this as a family.
  • Allow them a chance to say goodbye in their own way.

Officials with Comfort Zone Camp say they will continue to be a free resource for grieving children and their families.

Parents say they’re appreciative of that and plan to support faculty, staff and students as they work through this tragedy together.

Grief counselors will be on hand next week when students at South Anna Elementary return to school from spring break.

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