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Breonna Taylor's Teachers Remember Her Life

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In the days since the Louisville grand jury decided not to indict officers for killing Breonna Taylor, several educators have felt the need to come forward and talk about who she was as a person. Breonna Taylor was the 26-year-old Black emergency room technician who was shot and killed in her apartment by Louisville police conducting a late-night no-knock raid. To those who knew her, she was much more than just those news lines. Jess Clark of member station WFPL spoke with four of Breonna Taylor's former teachers.

JESS CLARK, BYLINE: Breonna Taylor made a lasting impression on the teachers at Western High School, where she was a student and graduated in 2011.

LEAH WHITE: She loved math. It was her favorite subject. She was brilliant and fast and efficient.

CLARK: Her math teacher, Leah White, says Taylor had what she calls a beautiful mind - a math mind.

WHITE: I remember in class, I would always get her to help upperclassmen. And that's kind of hard 'cause she was younger. But she would help seniors and help them with their math. And I think that was such a sign of maturity and resolve to be able to help, you know, upperclassmen.

CLARK: Teachers say Taylor wasn't just smart. She was the type of student who had your back. Jennifer Fuchs was a newer social studies teacher when she had Taylor in her class.

JENNIFER FUCHS: So I was still kind of trying to get my wings, so to speak.

CLARK: It can be scary as a new teacher to worry about a lesson flopping. Sometimes students don't engage or are too shy. But Fuchs says she could always count on Taylor to raise her hand.

FUCHS: She might not definitely know the answer, but she was going to be confident enough to put herself out there and try and put that effort forth. I knew she was going to be somebody. You know, it's just that feeling - that it factor that you have.

CLARK: Teachers say Taylor also looked out for other students. Stephanie Holton is the youth service center coordinator at Western. She connects students with resources they need, like counseling.

STEPHANIE HOLTON: Breonna would, many times, find someone crying in the bathroom and bring them to me. She was just such a helping and such a giving spirit. I really expected her to go on possibly into social work or into teaching.

CLARK: But Taylor had her heart set on health care. She was an emergency room technician and planned to become a nurse before she was killed. Former Western High School assistant principal Nureka Dixon says education and school were important to Taylor, and so were her friends. Dixon remembers her huge smile and distinctive laugh.

NUREKA DIXON: Just to hear her name, I can't help but literally hear her laughter. You had to hear her giggle to truly understand. You know, you have thousands of kids over the years. This is my 23rd year in education. But there are those students that just stick out, and they stay with you because they have a place in your heart. And she was just one of those people.

CLARK: Taylor's death has been painful for this high school community. Her killing by police has made Louisville a focal point in an international movement for racial justice. But Dixon says she doesn't want people to forget who Breonna Taylor was.

DIXON: She's not just a name on a hashtag. She's not just a picture on a billboard or magazine or something that is for a moment relevant to pop culture or to people.

CLARK: She was a real person, Dixon said, that touched each of their lives very deeply.

For NPR News, I'm Jess Clark in Louisville.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jess Clark is WWNO's Education Desk reporter. Jess comes to the station after two years as Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting for North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC (Chapel Hill). Her reporting has aired on national programs, including NPR's All Things Considered, Here & Now from WBUR, and NPR's Weekend Edition.

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