Staff remembers playfulness, humor, dedication of Ariyana Jones

(Photo used by permission of Joy Pangilinan)
Margaret Banash and Joy Pangilinan celebrate with Ariyana Jones at the baptism of Pangilinan’s daughter, Malia. Banash worked in ASE and had a close relationship with Jones.

In assistant head of school Tucker Foehl’s office, there’s a framed photo of an email from Ariyana Jones that reads, “Thank you Tucker, for guiding us through such an important facet of the school. Job well done!”

That email was sent to the entire school in response to learning that the Accreditation Self-Study Report for the WASC/CAIS evaluation (of which Foehl was in charge) had been submitted.

And it was sent at 6:45 p.m., 45 minutes before Jones was shot and killed in her home on Dec. 1.

Foehl said he had invited Jones onto the school-wide Curriculum Committee (which participated in the accreditation process) over the summer.

“Because Ariyana had so much promise and talent, it was natural for her to be a part of it,” Foehl said.

At first Jones hesitated to accept because there had never been a teaching assistant on the committee before.

“But I and many people in the school saw her as the future – the present and the future – of the pre-K program,” Foehl said.

Jones, also known by her camp-counselor nickname “Banana,” was an ASE camp counselor for five years and a pre-K teaching assistant for two.

A month after she was murdered in her home, the SCDS community is both remembering her fondly and trying to find meaning in her death.

Pre-K teacher Barbara Fackenthall said that Jones understood how frustrated she became with small tasks and was always there to bail her out.

For example, Fackenthall said, Jones was in charge of a rain gauge that she would hang on the fence. After the last big storm, Jones brought in the gauge.

Fackenthall needed to rehang the gauge since there was another storm coming, but without Jones, she could not figure out how to.

“She had some clever way of doing it, and I could not come up with anything,” Fackenthall said.

Fackenthall eventually stuck the gauge in a bucket of rocks and left it in the middle of the play yard.

“As I was doing it, I was getting so frustrated, and then I just started laughing because Ariyana was so spirited and so playful that I knew she would just be laughing watching me,” Fackenthall said.

Both Fackenthall and pre-K teacher Donna Manning said that Jones went beyond the job of an assistant.

“She was a quick study,” Fackenthall said. “She knew how to ask questions. She learned quickly. She wasn’t offended if you said, ‘No, that’s not what I had in mind. You need to redo that.’”

Manning agreed and also said Jones was very motivated.

“She took initiative,” Manning said. “The plan was that I would mentor her, but in so many respects, she mentored me,” Fackenthall said.

(Photo used by permission of Joy Pangilinan)
Ariyana Jones (above) and Latonia Pitts (below) would often play pranks on each other.

Even at 26, Jones was not afraid to try out new ideas in front of all the students, Manning said. Jones even started planning lessons.

“She prepared herself for doing things beyond what we would expect for her,” Manning said. “She was really an equal in the three of us.”

In addition to Jones’s trustworthiness and motivation, director of after-school enrichment Joy Pangilinan remembers her sense of humor.

Pangilinan first met Jones in 2009, when Jones started as a camp counselor. She said they and first-grade assistant Latonia Pitts became friends pretty quickly.

“She told (stories) with a really big smile, and something funny always happened,” kindergarten teacher Sarah Song said.

When Jones went to Mexico, she asked to borrow camp counselor Morgan McAllister’s camera, Pangilinan said.

“It was a really nice camera, and she was doing modeling shots,” Pangilinan said. “She was in the water, and a fish bit her, and she dropped the camera in the water!”

Jones bought McAllister a new camera.

Another example of her sense of humor was at the talent show during the 2014 summer camp. She and another counselor performed “I See The Light” from the Disney movie “Tangled.”

“Banana always thought she could sing, but she really couldn’t,” Pangilinan said with a chuckle.

“So she’s in the middle of the song, and she had a solo. And (counselor) Morgan Bennett-Smith (‘13) was like, ‘God, that’s awful,’ so he just unplugged her mic, and then we faded the music.

“They were all supposed to sing a five-minute song, and it was like 30 seconds.”

According to Bennett-Smith, nicknamed Kix at camp, after he unplugged Jones’s mic, she turned, and said through gritted teeth, “Kix, let me be a star.”

Jones played many pranks on him, especially when Pangilinan wasn’t paying attention, he said.

One time Jones hid Bennett-Smith’s keys in a marker bin.

“She let me suffer for three days!” he said.

According to Bennett-Smith, Jones had a reputation as a tattletale to Pangilinan.

“The only way to ensure that she wouldn’t go selling your secrets to Joy and Sport (nickname for Pitts) was if you could somehow get some dirt on (Jones) to use as blackmail,” Bennett-Smith said.

“If a rare opportunity arose where I caught her sneaking a bite of a doughnut in front of a camper or something, I would cling onto that for dear life, so the next time she saw me doing something, she wouldn’t rat me out.”

Despite Jones’s mischievous ways, she felt lucky to be able to bring her daugher Lola to SCDS, Song said.

She remembered seeing Jones with Lola at the beginning of this school year, when Lola was just starting pre-K.

“I was walking out of the faculty workroom, and (Ariyana) was coming through the gates with Lola at the beginning of the year,” Song said.

“It was just one of those moments where she had the hugest smile on her face (because) her daughter was coming to Country Day.”

Pangilinan also recalls how happy and grateful Jones was that Lola could attend the school.

To remember Jones, Pangilinan got a banana tattoo – her first tattoo – at the beginning of winter break. (Pitts and another counselor said they plan to get banana tattoos as well.)

“I just wanted a piece of (Jones) with me so I won’t forget her,” Pangilinan said.

After a string of robberies in her area, Jones went from door to door to try to start a neighborhood watch.

But around 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 1, gunshots were fired into her home on Tortola Way.

While neither her husband, Marcus, nor her two children, Lola and Marc, were hurt, Jones was shot. She was rushed to a hospital, where she died at the age of 26.

The investigation for the shooter is still ongoing.

But while the police are still trying to uncover the facts, Fackenthall and Manning are struggling to find meaning in Jones’s death.

“I’m not one of those people who questions the queries of life a lot, but this is one that has me puzzled,” Fackenthall said.

“And I know that there is something that I’m supposed to learn from this, and something that’s going to make me stronger because of her sacrifice.”

“And make me a better person,” Manning added.

“And she really does set an example for all of us who knew her to become a better person.”

“And to really stop and think about what’s important and our priorities,” Fackenthall said.

By Allison Zhang

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