During his senior year at La Vega High School last year, graduate Lamar Lee started each day by making his rounds, visiting his favorite teachers and coaches to get off on the right foot, he said.

And Jan Skrabanek, a Career and Technology Education teacher and the yearbook and newspaper adviser, was always the first on the former student body president’s list.

“Ms. Skrabanek was a mentor, a guide. She was a supporter, and she was a person I really saw when I needed someone and I knew I could go to her,” Lee said. “Specifically, she took interest in me, even though I wasn’t a student of hers in her classroom for all the four years I was here. But I was in her class every day.”

But when he learned about her sudden death last week, Lee cried, prayed and then showed up to help lead Friday’s day of remembrance and balloon release in her honor.

Lee was among the nearly 900 La Vega High School students, staff, friends and family mourning the unexpected loss of Skrabanek on the school’s football field Friday afternoon. Students who were part of any school organizations were also asked to wear uniforms in Skrabanek’s honor.

Participants released about 350 biodegradable balloons on the football field after classes were done for the day, one for reach senior or student she had, plus family members and people she worked with, principal Chuck Klander said.

Skrabanek served La Vega High School the past nine years. She died Jan. 3 after a brief illness, Klander said.

“I’d rather have more (balloons) than not enough. That was kind of a mindset for her, she was a giver,” said Klander, who helped bring in supplies for the event.

Klander and Skrabanek would often race to get to school each morning by 7 a.m., he said. She often arrived first, though, and often left late to be there for her students, he said.

Last year, Skrabanek was honored with the high school’s Teacher of the Year Award. Her teaching philosophy focused on building relationships with each of her students, according to her profile on the high school’s website.

“She (was) younger than me, but far more wise than me in education,” colleague Debra Washington said. “She taught me we don’t just want (students) here, we want to show them the world. It was just so easy to relate to where she wanted them to go and kept relationships with students (from) years back. And she was just so consistent and loving. I think that’s the biggest thing I admire about her. “

Also a career and technology education teacher, Washington saw that daily, working side by side with Skrabanek the last five years. They coordinated field trips and student events together, and Skrabanek often served as Washington’s mentor, she said.

And when a student suffered a tragedy because of a recent fire, Skrabanek helped organize an effort to make sure the student had what he needed and to show him the La Vega ISD community loved him, Washington said. Washington helped students coordinate Friday’s celebration.

“It’s a celebration of her life,” Klander said. “We’’ll never fully gain what she did for us back, but it’s a way to symbolize closure for us, and say that you’re still here with us.”

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