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CHAPEL HILL TEACHER FACES DEATH BY PREACHING TOLERANCE

A Chapel Hill high school teacher diagnosed with a fatal disease hasn't stopped teaching or living life to the fullest, and her students say the impact of two recent lessons will leave lasting impressions.

Vivian Connell was diagnosed in March with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative nerve condition commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The average life expectancy for someone with the illness is two to five years.

As she faces death, Connell said Tuesday that she wants to spend each day spreading messages against intolerance, inequity and racism.

"I think it gives validity to my life and helps me make peace with death knowing that I am doing something to contribute while I'm here," she said.

As part of The Butterfly Project, which aims to create 1.5 million ceramic butterflies worldwide to memorialize each child who died in the Holocaust, Connell recently had her Phoenix Academy students paint ceramic butterflies to accompany cards with the photos and stories of children killed by the Nazis.

The project came on the heels of a class trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

"It was very emotional seeing the pictures, actual photos," sophomore Erika Ventura said.

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