by Bryan Painter Published: August 10, 2008
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WELEETKA — Wanda Mankin recently was flipping through a stack of tests taken in the spring by students of Graham Schools.

The elementary principal had wanted to get their attention on the first day of class about the importance of earning good grades.

Instead, the stack itself got her attention.

"I forgot to take Taylor's out,” she said. "The students didn't see her test, but I just stopped. A student said ‘Is something wrong?' I said, ‘No, no, nothing is wrong' and I went on.”

Friday, the second day of school, marked two months since two students — Taylor Dawn Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Jade Whitaker, 11 — were shot to death on a rural county line road near Placker's home.

So far no arrests have been made.

Starting the new year
This is Mankin's 31st year as an educator at Graham.

Have you ever given so many hugs on the first day of school here?

"Probably not,” she replied.

Have you ever shed as many tears on the first day?

"I kept myself together because we did have a couple of students that were emotional, and if they see us on the edge it's just harder for them,” she said.

Graham Schools, an independent school district 6.5 miles east of Weleetka, has 90 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade, primarily from rural areas around Weleetka, Dustin and Henryetta.

Although Taylor was in sixth grade and Skyla was in fifth grade, the best friends both attended school in the same classroom.

Keeping chaos in check
The first day of the new school year "went really smooth,” Superintendent Dusty Chancey said.

The day included additional safety measures — all classroom doors were locked and no students went from the cafeteria to play in the gym at lunch until an assigned teacher went with the group.

"The OSBI said people that commit these crimes like to see what kind of chaos they created,” Chancey said. "If we have all of the students in one location, it's easier to recognize anyone on campus that shouldn't be.”

When the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents visited before the start of school they dropped off posters. One of those is on the wall in the main office, just above boxes of new textbooks.

Down the side is "REWARD” and along the top in red is "$30,000.” Below that are pictures of Taylor and Skyla.

This is just one of the reminders.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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