By Dick Maloney
Behind Clermont Northeastern Elementary School, just past a shelter, sits a large plot of land covered with rubber playground mulch. The area includes the usual equipment – balance beams, a yellow funnel ball, monkey bars, a climbing structure, slides.
If you look at the rows of swings along the back, you might just see one swaying back and forth; you may also hear a voice belonging to the girl pictured on a plaque on the side of the elementary, overlooking the recreational area.
The 6-year-old died in May from DIPG – Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma – essentially a brain stem tumor that was discovered in April 2018. Her story touched everyone in the district and beyond; her courage inspired all whom she came in contact with. Many of those who were touched came to CNE Elementary Oct. 11 to continue honoring her, as her elementary school dedicated a new playground in her name.
Shannon Backer was Kinley’s kindergarten teacher last year. Now employed in the Finneytown Local School District, she returned to CNE for the ceremony. She encouraged Kinley’s classmates, gathered around the outside of the shelter, to share her love of school.
“On those hard days, look at that little face that will be on that plaque, remember her battle, remember the camaraderie and closeness we felt with each other … and on those extra difficult days, walk over and you can share those thoughts with her, and if you talk quietly enough, you can even hear Kinley using some of her favorite colorful words,” Backer said. “If Kinley can graduate kindergarten against those odds, you can get through a random tough Tuesday.”
Since his daughter’s diagnosis, Bryan Sexton has become a passionate advocate for DIPG research. About three weeks before the CNE dedication, he said, he spoke at Western Brown High School. His daughter’s death helped him understand his purpose.
“I’ll go to a school a week if I have to. I’ll go to a business per week and share my story, my daughter’s story, our family’s story. I’ll share the information. Will I cry? Yes. Will I get upset along the way? Yes. If one person today finds out information or finally knows about this disease, they’ll tell one person. That’s the way you impact, that’s how awareness is spread. Somebody else talking about it. I hope that’s what we’re doing today,” he said.
He knew which part of the playground his daughter would try first.
“Right now, swings she loved to swing. She would have done the slide. There’s not anything she couldn’t have done, but I think if you have to ask her what she would have done first, I think she would have wanted us to push her on the swings and then hit the slide second,” he said.
For Bryan, the swings represent a larger opportunity. Two friendship benches will be added to the playground – one painted as a rainbow and one painted purple, Kinley’s favorite color.
“Why don’t we take these, swings or these benches and put them in front of their school, and go to every school and make an impact and when you see that school, put it in a spot where you walk by it every day,” Bryan Sexton said. “You have to see her picture. You have to see the hashtag …” He then struggled through a long pause.
“I miss her,” he said, again pausing for composure before regaining his voice – and finding his sense of humor.
“Thank you. We love you,” he said. “I was on a roll and I blew it.”
Ken and Betty Scott are Kinley’s great-grandparents. They live next to the family. Kinley was spending the night at their house in April 2018 when she first showed symptoms of DIPG.
“Every time her name is brought up it brings tears to my eyes,” Ken Scott said.
Betty Scott recalled Kinley as a “girly-girl” who loved to wear makeup, and have her fingernails and toenails painted.
“I miss that. I miss her every night I go to bed,” Betty Scott said. “She was special. So special.”
The Scotts can see the Sexton home from theirs. Ken Scott talked about a recent day when one of Kinley’s brothers was visiting.
“He was at our kitchen table looking at the house, and he said ‘What if that was a mansion over there?’ and I said, ‘Well, we’d move in with you if that was a mansion.’ And he said, ‘No, I mean it would go clear up to heaven and all we’d have to do is open the door and Kinley would walk in.’”
Brent Scott, Kinley’s grandfather, lives on the other side of Kinley’s family. He was finding it hard to describe how much the dedication meant to them.
“Every day, there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t think about her. I mean we think about her all the time, but you have your moments, you know, you think you’re doing good and then something triggers something, but that’s how it is every day. We’re honored for this. We’re very appreciative of the support we’ve had from the community, just non-stop. We’re just thankful for everything,” Brent said.
CNE Elementary Principal Tonya Schmidt said Kinley’s journey and life had a profound impact on everyone in the school.
“Today is really about having one more opportunity to do something as a lasting tribute to her and as a reminder that even though she’s not with us, we’re fighting for her now. She’s not with us anymore, but we certainly feel her all the time. We hear her laugh, everything about Kinley was so amazing,” Schmidt said.
“She was an incredibly hard worker. She loved to learn. She came in already a very, very smart girl from preschool and … she loved anything that had to do with art and she loved her work to be thorough and beautiful, and she loved to socialize with the kids but also the adults. Everybody came in to see her and I think she loved being at school because that is a very normal piece of life for a child,” Backer said.
During the ceremony, Schmidt read a poem, “Look for Me in Rainbows,” by Vicky Brown.
“One of my best memories I have about Kinley is her unending love for rainbows, when her work was finished she would sit in the corner of the classroom and make rainbows and other amazing pictures,” Schmidt said. The morning of the dedication rain had moved to the east, leaving rainbows and a slight hint of purple in the sky – proof that she was there.
Look for Me in Rainbows
“Time for me to go now, I won’t say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, way up in the sky.
In the morning sunrise when all the world is new,
Just look for me and love me, as you know I loved you.
“Time for me to leave you, I won’t say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, high up in the sky.
In the evening sunset, when all the world is through;
Just look for me and love me, and I’ll be close to you.
“It won’t be forever, the day will come and then
My loving arms will hold you, when we meet again.
Time for us to part now, we won’t say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, shining in the sky.
“Every waking moment, and all your whole life through
Just look for me and love me, as you know I loved you.
“Just wish me to be near you;
And I’ll be there with you.”
More about CNE Schools at: www.cneschools.org
Photo caption: 1) Kinley Sexton’s classmates listen during dedication ceremonies for a playground in her memory at Clermont Northeastern Elementary School. 2) Some of the swings at the Kinley Sexton Playground at Clermont Northeastern Elementary School. 3) Clermont Northeastern School District Board of Education member Danny Ilhardt and Bryan Sexton unveil the plaque for the Kinley Sexton Playground at Clermont Northeastern Elementary School Oct. 11. (Photos by Dick Maloney.)