Gold Hill students dance to send girl to Disney World

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comApril 15, 2014 

— A teacher stopped scores of partying children last week to tell them a child somewhere else, a child they’ve never met, is going to Disney World.

Then, they danced.

“The family has been through so much,” said Jen Levan, counselor at Gold Hill Elementary School. “This is a project that helped (students) realize the world is a lot bigger than just themselves.”

Levan sponsors the Student Leadership Council at her school, a group of 20 fifth-graders meeting twice a month after school. Students must interview, write an essay and get teacher recommendations just to participate. Occasionally, they give up a little lunch or recess time to work a project.

This year, students chose a 6-year-old from York as their service project. Leeann received a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the fall of 2013, two months after her father found out he had a rare bladder cancer. She completed her treatment and is a Make-A-Wish candidate. Her father lost his cancer fight.

Gold Hill students learned of Leeann through Make-A-Wish. The Leadership Council organized a schoolwide dance, with each class paying its way through $20 donations. Students danced through their related arts periods last Thursday.

“We thought maybe it would be a fun way to raise money,” said council member Blythe Barrington-Hughes. “I thought it would be really cool to help somebody.”

Group member Esmie Fernandez doesn’t recall who had the idea but remembers the full council getting behind it. Teachers agreed to the sole student demand: no slow songs.

“Everybody likes to dance with their friends,” Fernandez said.

Levan read that the typical Make-A-Wish request takes $6,000 to $7,000. She never intended for students to fully fund a Disney World trip, only to help, so they set a $1,000 goal. The students exceeded it the first day. So the goal was moved up to $2,500. They surpassed that goal the second day.

“We bumped it up every time we passed it,” Barrington-Hughes said.

First-grader Morgan Nelson brought in money so many days in a row that teachers had to ask her how she got it. Nelson said she and a middle school neighbor went door-to-door in their neighborhood sharing Leeann’s story.

“Morgan offered to do chores for them in exchange for a donation,” Levan said. “She reported to us that she walked dogs, pulled weeds, cleaned up someone’s playroom and got someone’s mail.”

Nelson collected $120 in two days. Two more first-graders, Sammy Lange and Savanna Klapheke, felt inspired to donate their hair to organizations that make wigs for cancer patients.

Students only knew of Leeann by her first name through Make-A-Wish. But a teacher at the school had previously worked with Leeann’s mom, so teachers had some updates on how she was doing. At the dance event, students learned enough money was raised for Leeann to take her trip.

The school’s contribution came in at $3,721.55, plus a donation or two after the April 4 cutoff.

Students have surprised their teachers in what they could accomplish in just nine school days of fundraising. The council also held a pajama drive this year, collecting more than 300 pairs for the Clover Area Assistance Center. They’ll have a new service project next year, whatever students pick.

Last Wednesday, the day before she’d dance through all of the related arts classes, Levan wasn’t quite ready to think of next year.

“I’m going to be sleeping on the gym floor when it’s over,” the seven-year veteran at Gold Hill. “That’s where I’ll be if you’re looking for me.”

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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