Beloved teacher Parmatma Khalsa mourned: ‘He was basically a saint’

“The children just flocked to him and around him, and loved him with every fiber of their soul,” Belanger said....

SOUTH HADLEY — Parmatma Singh Khalsa was the type of person who forged “a strong connection and a beautiful bond” with everyone who got to know him, says his mother-in-law, Amar Kaur Fuller.

That sentiment was one roundly echoed by those touched by the Leverett resident and beloved third grade teacher at Mosier Elementary School in South Hadley, who died Thursday morning in a two-car crash in South Hadley that remains under investigation.

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Fuller said she’s not surprised that in the four years Khalsa, 44, taught in South Hadley, there would be so much affection for him.

“Parmatma was really and truly a very powerful spiritual man,” Fuller said. “He was basically a saint, and his children and his family reflect that.”

Fuller said her son-in-law was a strong member of the Sikh faith, instilling ​​​what she calls the “beautiful teaching of family and community” in his own family.

“He had such a big open heart and knew how to have fun and to appreciate that,” she said. Although he was also very intelligent, she said, he used that intelligence in a humble way.

When he wasn’t with his wife, Jai Fuller, and two children, Khalsa drew great joy from working with his students. On his teacher webpage, Khlasa wrote, “I enjoy working with third graders more than just about anything else.”

“Their minds are inquisitive, they are developing into industrious workers, and their hearts are still open,” he wrote. “My main goal with each crop of new students is to support them in being kind, caring individuals who cultivate a curiosity about their world and a love of learning.”

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On Friday, parents of Khalsa’s former students remembered him as someone who went above and beyond in achieving this goal.

Kyle Belanger, chairman of the South Hadley School Committee, met Khalsa when he became his son Milo’s third grade teacher last year. Belanger would often volunteer in the classroom, where he came to know Khalsa as “one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever been around” and recalled “seeing the magic that (Khalsa) had around him” when working with children.

“The children just flocked to him and around him, and loved him with every fiber of their soul,” Belanger said. “You could feel the love that he and his students shared. He’s an incredibly special man.”

Khalsa had “a knack for authentically seeing every child” and their families, Belanger said, adding that he “saw my son in the most authentic way that anybody who doesn’t share our last name has ever seen him.”

Andrea Miles, chairwoman of the South Hadley Select Board, also praised Khalsa’s ability to understand children, and credited him with turning around the school year for her daughter Paige, now a fourth grader, when she switched classrooms halfway through last year. 

“He welcomed her right into the class,” Miles recalled. “Even though she wasn’t new, her first day in the classroom, one of the easels had, ‘Welcome, Paige,’ which was really sweet.”

After a difficult start to the year, Miles “was really hoping that her school year would be salvaged in such a way that she could really look forward to fourth grade.” Khalsa “really heard me” when she talked to him about these concerns, Miles said, and his approach saw Miles’ hopes for the remainder of the year realized.

“He was really holistic and really valued children just as they were, and didn’t treat them as miniature adults,” Miles said. “He was really interested in helping children learn their strengths, and even capitalize on the things that could potentially be difficulties for them, but would teach them how to use it in such ways that could be beneficial to them and others.”

For Miles’ daughter, Khalsa recognized her “strong personality” would pair well with activities “like having her lead a reading group or giving her some leadership opportunities throughout the day,” Miles said. 

Belanger and Miles also noted that while Khalsa was a quiet man, he had a powerful presence. 

“He was a man of few words, but he was very expressive, his eyes and his smile,” Belanger said. “And when he spoke, it was usually incredibly funny, always incredibly insightful, and everyone took notice … He was one of those magnetic people.”

Miles expressed a similar sentiment. 

“He was very gentle and soft-spoken and kind, and seemed always filled with gratitude,” she said. “Even though he was quiet, he had … a powerfully calming presence.”

Belanger described the atmosphere at Mosier Elementary School Friday morning as “an outpouring of emotion from an entire community,” with support coming in from near and far.

“Everyone’s reaching out, because this loss is profound,” Belanger said. 

Miles said she is “confident that our school community will be able to come together to support each other and to be able to support his family in any way that they need.”

A candlelight gathering will be held for Khalsa on the lawn outside his classroom on Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. 

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Khalsa earned his master’s degree at Mount Holyoke College, where spokeswoman Christian Feuerstein shared in a statement that the school is “shocked and saddened.”

“Khalsa is remembered as a beloved teacher at the Mosier School who took the time to understand each child he taught,” the statement read. “He loved to learn and fostered that interest in students.”

At the Yoga Center Amherst, where Jai Fuller is a pre- and postnatal yoga instructor, Khalsa’s death was being felt by students and staff.

“Parm, Jai and their family are right at the heart of this community,” said Patty Townsend, founder of the center. “We are deeply shaken and aching with this tragedy.”

Dorothy Creswell, a retired teacher at Leverett Elementary School, described Khalsa, Fuller and their children as a “very gentle, loving, serving family.”

The family had also been participants at The Center dance studio’s annual production of A 21st Century Nutcracker. Khalsa had played Godfather Drosselmeyer ​during the first two years.​​​​​​

“It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he was adored by everyone who shared the stage with him,” said Ashley Carlisle, a founder of the studio. “His gentle presence had a way of centering the rest of the cast, of bringing a sense of calm to chaotic moments. He was quietly funny and deeply kind. The kids gravitated toward his warmth.”

Eva Fairchild of Amherst said she and her daughter, Angelique, knew Khalsa through the studio and the Nutcracker.

“He was a very warm and fun person,” Fairchild said. “Angelique and I loved performing with him.” 

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Amar Fuller said Khalsa also practiced yoga and prayed and chanted daily, and with his wife performed for West African dance and drum classes in the Pioneer Valley. Fuller described him as an amazing drummer, noting that he passed these skills on to his 13-year-old son, Amardas, and also played the tabla that accompanies Sikh music. His 4-year-old daughter, Nambani, is already playing the harmonium, Fuller said.

The family is embracing each other through the grief of the sudden loss, Fuller said: “We have a beautiful thread of faith that holds us together like glue.”

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