Like a mother, Tammy Boschee held students during a recent assembly on drunk driving deaths. In her arms were those most affected by the loss of fellow Apple Academy student Stephanie Jones, who died in a car accident at the beginning of March.
It's a setting that has played out far too often for Boschee and co-adviser Jeff Palmquist.
In the last three-and-a-half years, the tight-knit program has lost a handful of current or former students.
"We've got to quit having conversations like this," Palmquist said earlier this week.
Jaclyn Terry, who was killed in a car accident on Highway 88 in 2005, was a tutor in the class, and Boschee still keeps the girl's student ID card on her desk.
Her picture is also on the bulletin board where Jones' was just added.
"And we'll put Diego's up there, too," Palmquist said, motioning to the colorful wall with smiling student faces.
Boschee heard of Diego Chavira's death when a former student walked into her classroom Monday around 9 a.m. with tears streaming down his face. All he could say was, "Diego's dead." The 2007 Lodi High School graduate was shot earlier that morning during a fight in north Stockton that police have shed little light upon.
Palmquist said Chavira was enrolled in the academy for a couple of years and he got to know the athlete very well. Earlier this week, he fondly remembered how he couldn't run very fast but was always looking for a workout to help him improve his speed.
But it's far from the only loss the group has suffered. The boyfriend of the second girl killed in the tragic Christmas Eve accident four years ago in Lockeford was an Apple student, so Kelly Garecht was always in Boschee's comfortable classroom, too.
"She was a friend of the program," the 18-year teacher said.
Golfer stand-out Logan Vierra had interviewed as an Apple applicant just before being fatally killed in an accident in 2005. He would have started that fall.
And Summer Bowler, who is serving a jail sentence for killing her best friend in a drunk driving accident, had been in the Apple program but left for Liberty High only four months before the crash. Last Friday, she spoke to upper-classmen in the school's "Every 15 Minutes" program.
"It can happen to anyone," Palmquist said of the tragedies, motioning to the bulletin board where recent newspaper clippings accompany the students' photos. "These are prototypical kids. These are pretty normal people."
Boschee added, "Diego was a good kid. He was just goofy."
Apple Academy students usually become close friends because they attend most of their classes together. The program focuses on education-based careers and educates about 10 percent of the 1,500-member campus.
Maybe that's why the latest deaths are from one group, Palmquist reasoned.
"Maybe it's just because we know them so well," Boschee added.
"It's just been this tragic cloud over Lodi High School," she said, trying to sum up her emotions. "I'm getting numb this year. (Monday) I sat here not able to cry, but with a heavy heart."
A picture of the first student she ever lost still sits on the windowsill of her classroom. Although he had already graduated, Boschee said it took weeks to get over it.
Mike Wood, the program's history teacher and one of the three original founders, said student deaths are hard.
"I've experienced this 11 times in my career. You don't get used to it, but you have some perspective," he said
In the late 1980s, the student body president was killed in a car accident and, similar to now, Wood used the opportunity to point out to students that this can happen to anyone.
Wood, personally, tries to get back to some sort of normalcy as quickly as possibly.
"Getting back into a normal routine certainly helps, but it's hard to do, especially when it comes to kids."
Still, they need to be comforted.
A 'safe haven'
When the Jones family decided to take Stephanie off life support due to injuries she sustained in the accident last month, Room 93 became a safe haven for grieving students.
Faculty donated money to order pizzas and bought bottled water for the students who joined together to work on large posters used at the girl's funeral. Boschees's classroom became a support center, according to Palmquist, who estimated at the time that more than 100 students stopped by.
On that day, Boschee said she felt like a mother at the end of a receiving line because as each student exited her classroom, they asked for a hug.
The teachers, too, are close-knit, even calling each other their "school spouses." The students, then, are their children.
Lyndon Blodgett, a 12-year counselor at Lodi High, said the losses certainly affect the entire student body, and especially their teachers.
"But you know how you hear kids are resilient? So are our teachers," Blodgett said. "You have to kind of go with the flow. We know that going in."
Boschee said there's no way to prepare for so many deaths.
"You don't learn it in teacher school or counseling school because it's different than that - because counselors don't counsel those who are close to them," said Palmquist, who admits he's not good dealing with death even in his own family.
"You know what helped me? To help them," Boschee said. Shortly after she heard of Chavira's death, her cell phone lit up with text messages from students all over the West Coast - away at college. She spent hours that evening communicating with grieving students.
It was a perfect example of how tight-knit a group this is.
"Once an Apple, always an Apple," she added. "Parents aren't supposed to bury their children. Teachers aren't supposed to bury their students."
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at email@example.com.