Joel Rosenzweig works with LHHS film students.

Joel Rosenzweig works with LHHS film students.

Fifteen minutes before the start of school this morning, a voice came over the intercom at Lake Highlands High School.

“Faculty and staff, there will be a meeting at 8:45 in the library,” the voice said. “Everyone must attend. Right now.”

Confused teachers made their way to the library, and when they returned to classrooms, they shared shocking news with their students. Beloved teacher Joel Rosenzweig had died. In one classroom, as the teacher broke the news, a senior girl enrolled in Rosenzweig’s government class began sobbing. The teacher, who was also crying, offered words of consolation and encouraged students to seize the moment.

“If you love someone, tell them,” she said, “because your tomorrow isn’t promised.”

In Candice Nichols’ anatomy and physiology classrooms, the quiz planned for today became optional. She handed out coloring sheets and crayons, inviting students to deal with the news through therapeutic art or even crumple paper and have a snowball fight. “Just do what you need to do,” Nichols told them.

“Mr. Rosenzweig loved teaching, and he was always the voice or advocate for those he felt were being mistreated,” Nichols says. “He always had the guts to stand up and challenge what he thought was wrong or be an advocate for the teachers that were too afraid to speak up. Sometimes he made enemies speaking his mind, but his heart was always to be an advocate for the underdog, whether that was a fellow teacher or a student.”

Normal classroom activity came to a halt all over the school this morning as students and teachers grappled with their grief. Teachers sent some students to the library to see counselors that Richardson ISD made available on campus. Some teachers accompanied them. At least one teacher never returned to class after the morning meeting.

Rosenzweig recently underwent a heart procedure, and told students beforehand not to worry — it was minor, and he would be gone only a couple of days. That he won’t be coming back at all cast a spell of somber silence over Lake Highlands High School, even during normally loud passing periods, as the shockwaves of the news reverberated through the school. When students did talk, it was about Rosenzweig — his impact on the school, and how much he will be missed.

Teachers made sure students to head to the library for grief counseling, which Richardson ISD has made available on campus. Some even walked alongside them.

As word spread to LHHS alums, the tributes began rolling in. Students of Rosenzweig’s during his days as a theater teacher remember him introducing plays and film that they wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, and always inspiring them to think way outside of the box. Another student remembered Rosenzweig emphasizing the importance of voting — so much so that in 2008, he walked an entire classroom to the Audelia Road Library to vote in the presidential election. He was also a proponent of quirky sports (Rosenzweig founded the Lake Highlands bowling team, the Alley Cats) and especially encouraged the young women at LHHS in this regard. He made sure they were aware of available Title Nine funds.

Rosenzweig was the current faculty sponsor for student council, and officers were summoned to the student council room shortly after this morning’s faculty announcement.

“He always quoted Yoda. ‘There is no try, only do,’ ” said student council officer Eden Welty. “But he really did say it in all seriousness because he expected a lot from us. In government, he really pushed us to have our own opinions. I wrote in several journal entries that I didn’t have an opinion on the subject, and he wrote, ‘You must. On every single one.’ ”

Lauren Frank, Samantha Rosenthal and Carol Toler reported this article.