Once-shy student recalls how late teacher brought him out of shell

A memorial has been set up outside of Orenda Elementary to honor Brian Skinner, a fifth grade Shenendehowa Central School District teacher who died on July 28.

KASSIE PARISI/GAZETTE REPORTERA memorial has been set up outside of Orenda Elementary to honor Brian Skinner, a fifth grade Shenendehowa Central School District teacher who died on July 28. KASSIE PARISI/GAZETTE REPORTER

CLIFTON PARK — As the Shenendehowa community continues coming to terms with the death of a beloved teacher, one student will always remember Brian Skinner as the person who brought him out of his shell, and taught him to take control of his own life.

Cameron Brimhall, about to enter his junior year at Shen, moved to Clifton Park from Utah as he was about to start fifth grade. Coming from Utah, which is over 2,200 miles away, Brimhall was nervous about school, and said that he was overcome by shyness.

But Skinner, who Brimhall had as his fifth-grade teacher, quickly helped him embrace the more outgoing side of his personality, and guided him through the transition to a new school with new people.

“I loved that about him,” Brimhall said of Skinner. “He taught us how to take care of other people, and he taught us what we could do to make someone’s day. To me, that just meant a lot.”

Skinner, 32, was killed on July 28 after a confrontation with police officers outside his Glenville home. Glenville and Scotia police responded to a call for a domestic disturbance involving a firearm. When they encountered Skinner, he was armed with a knife, police said. Officers opened fire, killing Skinner. Glenville Officer Benjamin Ferretti was also struck in the lower torso by friendly fire, said state police, who are continuing their investigation. Ferretti has since been released from the hospital.

But in the classroom, Skinner had a way of relating to, and understanding his students that caused them to trust him, and also trust themselves.

Brimhall, who went back to Skinner’s classroom to visit many times after he left elementary school, recalled that his teacher was able to provide his students with real-life, relatable lessons, without bringing his personal life too much into the classroom.

For one lesson, Brimhall said, Skinner was looking to buy a house, and brought information about his options to class. He then worked with the students to go through different aspects to be considered when purchasing a home, including location and property value.

“As a class we stuck with one option, and he went out and bought the other. But he was just so good at bringing real life in,” Brimhall said. “He practiced what he preached, and I just loved that. He kind of came in and rescued me, and I’m so thankful for that.”

Skinner’s motto was, “be proactive, not reactive,” and he frequently urged his students to make sure that they were the ones in the driver seats of their lives, Brimhall added. Skinner made an attempt to be as much of an equal to his students as possible, and often joined them for basketball or kickball during recess. He also always had enough time in his day to listen to any student who had an issue, Brimhall said.

Brimhall currently sits on the Shen Board of Education as a student representative, a position he will hold until late December. Without those early lessons of Skinner teaching him to believe in himself, Brimhall said he might not be where he is today.

Brimhall is not the only student who was positively influenced by Skinner. Some of Skinner’s students were responsible for a small memorial that was placed outside of Orenda Elementary, honoring Skinner, and thanking him for his contributions to the district.

“I’m just one person, and I can give a testament to his attitude, which was very contagious, and his ability to bring forth miracles,” Brimhall said. “The world will never be the same without him.”