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Hope's recovery: Bemidji school reaches out

Hope Elizabeth (Hasson) Johnson, 6, of Bemidji, is pictured with her mother, Gena Hasson, and sister, Ashlin. (Submitted Photo)

One seat remains empty in Eileen Spilman's first-grade classroom at Central Elementary School.

Six-year-old Hope Elizabeth (Hasson) Johnson suffered a severed spinal cord and fractures in her left leg and face in a car crash Jan. 6 in Nebraska. She is recovering at Children's Hospital in Aurora, Colo.

"Her classmates miss her," Spilman said Monday.

Hope and her grandmother, Marilyn Sickler, were on their way back to Minnesota Jan. 6 following a family visit in Nebraska when their 2002 Dodge Intrepid, traveling about 65 mph, veered across traffic through a median and struck a parked 2003 Ford F-150 half-ton pickup, which had connected to it a 20-foot gooseneck trailer filled with about 20 cattle.

Faculty and staff at Central learned about the accident as they met for in-service training on the afternoon of Jan. 6.

"I talked to the students the next morning," said Spilman, noting that other teachers also talked to their students. "They ask a lot of questions."

Spilman noted the school psychologist is planning to talk with the students in her class.

Students, faculty and staff from Central have posted messages for Hope on her CaringBridge Web site,

"We are so sorry to hear about your accident. We hope you won't need any more surgeries and can get back to Minnesota soon," a group of fifth-graders wrote. "We think 'Hope' is a cool name because we are full of hope for you too!"

"Our class made cards and we sent them down," said Spilman, noting that other classes also made cards for Hope.

Teresa Galloway, media specialist and technology teacher at Central, also made a poster in pinks and pastels for Hope that all students, faculty and staff at Central signed. Galloway has Hope in class four times a week.

"She loves to read," she said.

Because Central is a small school, faculty and staff get to know all the students and their families well, said Patricia Welte, principal at Central and J.W. Smith elementary schools. She said the news of the accident was difficult for everyone.

"I've known Hope ever since she was born," Welte added.

She said Hope's sister, Ashlin, a freshman at Bemidji High School, attended J.W. Smith as an elementary school student. When their mother, Gena Hasson, visited the school to pick up Ashlin or go to a meeting, she brought Hope along.

"I always saw her as a very happy little girl," Welte said.

After hearing about the accident, Welte asked Brianna Hurlburt, a Title I paraprofessional at J.W. Smith, to call her sister Megan Lind to see if she could visit Hope in the hospital.

Lind, who worked as a special education paraprofessional last year at J.W. Smith, now lives and teaches near Aurora in Denver. Welte said she hoped Lind could go to the hospital in Aurora, introduce herself to Hasson and "tell Hope we are all thinking about her."

Since then, Lind has visited Hope in the hospital twice and plans to try to visit her every day Hope is in the hospital.

"She seems very upbeat," Lind said in a telephone interview Monday from Colorado. "She always smiles."

Lind, who before meeting Hope had planned to sign up to volunteer at the hospital, said she brought Hope a tiara Sunday because everybody says she is a princess.

"She loved it," Lind said. "She had a big smile on her face."

At Central, Spilman said Hope is a "very, very bubbly, high-energy person" who always has friends around her.

Galloway said Hope is a participator and helper at school.

"I think that she will make this work for her," Galloway said of Hope and her new circumstances. "She takes a hold of things and makes it hers. That's very positive."