WEST ORANGE, NJ — Mt. Pleasant Elementary School students and staff gathered on the front lawn of the school on Nov. 4 to dedicate a tree, bench and mural in honor of Henry Chang Jr., a student at the school who died in July after battling cancer. The Japanese maple tree is marked by a plaque with a photo of Henry that says “He made a difference,” and the mural displayed in the front hallway of the school is adorned with the handprints of his second-grade classmates and his younger brother Derrick. The bench, which sits next to the front door of Mt. Pleasant, was painted by Henry’s mother, Heather Young, an art teacher at West Orange High School, and her students.
“Anything we could do for him we wanted to do,” Mt. Pleasant Principal Julie DiGiacomo said at the dedication. “We needed to plan something for him that would honor him in a way that he would love.”
DiGiacomo described Henry as a student who loved going to school and participating in pajama day and the 100th day of school celebrations. When he got sick, he would use a robot called “VGo” that would allow him to interact with his friends in the classroom when he couldn’t be there himself.
“He loved coming to school,” DiGiacomo said. “He would come for a few hours or even just an hour. All of these things will remind us of Henry. He made us happy and he made us smile, and I’m glad we can do that today.”
Henry’s first-grade teacher, Lisa Marx, also spoke at the dedication.
“He always entered my room with that infectious smile of his,” Marx said. “He always wanted to be with his friends. My students learned to read and write but they learned more from Henry. He taught us about joy — pure joy — and acceptance. May this be a reminder of him.”
Mt. Pleasant art teacher Cecilia Ferrera unveiled the mural, and helped Derrick add his handprint to the perimeter of it alongside Henry’s classmates.
“I want to thank Henry for all he gave me and all he gave all of us as teachers,” Ferrera said.