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Vista Heights Middle teacher who died in crash remembered with scholarship

January 16, 2018 GMT

Dylan Thornton wouldn’t let his wife throw away thank you notes when he moved classrooms. He’d always kept them in his backpack and explained to her that he pulled them out whenever he needed a little encouragement.

“A lot of us think there are people that helped us, but we don’t thank them until they’re gone,” said Emily Thornton, Dylan’s widow. “Those little notes students wrote to him, they kept him going and on hard days he’d pull them out and read them.”

Dylan Thornton, a 34-year-old history teacher at Vista Heights Middle School in Saratoga Springs, died in September in a car crash on Interstate 15. In his obituary, Emily Thornton asked in lieu of flowers that people to write a thank you note to a teacher, coach, mentor or friend who had impacted their life.

Now the community is creating a scholarship in his honor as its own way of saying thank you to the teacher known for his passion for his students and love of Star Wars.

“Dylan was a powerful force for good and his loss leaves a huge hole in our community, and I hope that this scholarship is a small thing that we can do to keep Dylan’s legacy alive at Vista Heights,” said Julie King, a Saratoga Springs parent who had two children taught by Dylan Thornton.

King talked with her husband and Emily Thornton following Dylan’s death about a way to honor the history teacher. A scholarship, they decided, would be a fitting tribute.

“He was funny, he was compassionate, he was engaging and he had a fierce love for his students,” King said.

A $250 scholarship would be given to the winner of an essay contest every year. The hope is to create two separate scholarships for students who have attended Vista Heights Middle School, one to give to a student in the eighth or ninth grade and one to award to a student in the 10th through 12th grade.

But with only about half of the funds raised for one of the two potential scholarships, the Dylan Thornton Memorial Scholarship might not become a reality this year. King said she doesn’t want fundraising for the scholarship to compete with ongoing fundraising events aimed at helping Emily Thornton and their young son, Cooper.

King said her children would come home from school talking about their history teacher.

“He’s one of those teachers where 20 years from now he’ll be remembered as my children’s favorite teacher,” she said.

She remembers one back to school night when Dylan Thornton asked if her son had the same severe allergies as her daughter. King said out of hundreds of students, she was impressed he was able to recall a detail about a student he’d taught more than a year before.

Dylan Thornton had taught at Vista Heights Middle School since 2011. He and Emily adopted their son in July 2016. Before that, his students would ask why he didn’t have kids. His answer — he did. He already had 450 of them.

“They really were his kids,” Emily said. “He truly loved each and kid he taught.”

Students wore Star Wars apparel to honor him after his death. Todd Dawson, the principal of Vista Heights Middle School, said students still dress up in Star Wars clothing on the first Friday of the month as a tribute.

A scholarship, he said, is a way to remember Dylan annually.

The students have taken the opportunity to thank those who have impacted their lives. Dawson said students have written thank you notes to teachers from time to time and the school’s Latinos in Action group recently wrote thank you notes during a lunch activity.

“It’s a powerful thing to say thanks to people,” Dawson said.

Emily Thornton tries to visit one of Dylan’s classes once a month with Cooper. She said her husband was passionate about her students and education, to the point where Emily had to put a limit on 20 minutes when he could talk about his classes at home. He’d come home worried about how to help students and made sure to read to Cooper from the day he was born.

“Education was important to him,” Emily said. “He said he was a teacher to teach history, but he said he was also there to make sure people become good human beings.”

The community has done a lot for the family since Dylan’s death, including raising more than $45,000 on GoFundMe for Emily and Cooper, to holding multiple other fundraisers to benefit the family. But, Emily said, the scholarship would have been what Dylan would have loved the most.

“It was really touching for me to think about it,” Emily said. “It is just a really wonderful tribute.”

People can donate to the scholarship fund by going to foundation.alpineschool.org, clicking on “donate” and then listing the Dylan Thornton Memorial Scholarship under “purpose.”