A pair of inspired fourth-graders at Holiday Heights Elementary School may be teaching adults as much as they are learning with a campaign they created to help cancer patients.
Sydney Watson, 9, and Cheyenne Colmer, 9, are selling cancer awareness ribbons at their school to help raise money for the Genomic Program Fund for the Texas Health Resources Arlington Cancer Center. Cancer genomics uses DNA research to individualize and target treatment for patients.
The idea started shortly after Watson’s mom had a cancer scare.
“We’re the kind of family that doesn’t try to mask things,” said Sydney’s mom, Jessica Watson. “Even though she’s only nine, we told her there were a couple of tests that need to be done, and that we’re just making sure everything’s OK. We explained why it was an issue and what could be done to fix it if anything was wrong.”
Fortunately, the test results were good news.
“My mom got tested for cancer and the results were negative, so we were really happy,” the younger Watson said.
But the ordeal got her thinking about how others must feel when they receive a cancer diagnosis.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the nation, accounting for nearly one in four of all deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. During 2015, an estimated 1.7 million new cancer diagnoses are expected.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and a light bulb just went on in my head,” Watson said. “I was walking around and my mom said, ‘What are you doing?’ and I said, ‘Nothing.’ I didn’t let her know until the next morning.”
At first, it was just a name: Cancel Cancer.
“I thought of the name, but then I thought I could do something big with it,” Watson said. “I was thinking that if someone got cancer, what would you do?”
Empathy part of school program
Watson showed empathy and maturity well beyond her years, but that came as no surprise to her mom.
“She’s nine going on 19,” said Watson. “She doesn’t speak like a nine-year-old, she doesn’t act that way, and she asks questions that someone much older than her would ask.”
Empathy is one of the character traits reinforced by schools in the Birdville district. Through the Community of Respect Everywhere (C.O.R.E.) program, student character traits such as honesty and responsibility are woven into classroom discussions and lessons. Students are asked to model certain behaviors at school and ultimately, in their communities.
After Watson thought of Cancel Cancer, she enlisted the help of her classmate and friend, Cheyenne Colmer.
“Cheyenne came home from school and was drawing out things she wanted to do for this,” said her mom, Kimberly Colmer. “She wanted to have Cancel Cancer teddy bears and t-shirts. She’s very artistic and loves to draw and make things and build things.”
One of her ideas was a logo for a ribbon with the words Cancel Cancer.
“We have different-colored ribbons for different kinds of cancer,” the younger Colmer explained.
The ribbons were more cost-effective than some of the other projects, especially after Cheyenne’s grandmother, Renee Brown, stepped in. Brown owns F&H Ribbon Co. in Hurst.
“I told her teacher I’d do whatever she needed,” said Brown, who has donated 600 ribbons to the cause.
“Cheyenne is very focused and when she gets into something, she’s a go-getter,” Brown said. “She has an extreme amount of energy. It’s a project that’s very commendable. They’re so young and they want to take on a task like this.”
‘Start of something great’
Since November, the girls have raised $200, and they plan to continue the project at least through the end of the school year. The goal is to raise $500.
“This is the start of something great,” Holiday Heights Principal Michael Wamsley told the students during a recent interview. “Every journey starts with a single footstep.”
“It has been a real eye-opener for them,” said Wamsley. “They’re finding out that it takes a lot of work to raise that much money.”
The girls arrive at Holiday Heights Elementary at 7:30 a.m. to sell the ribbons before school starts. Every day except Monday, they talk about the ribbons over the intercom during the morning school announcements. And with the help of the school and the district, they launched a social media campaign.
Teachers explained how the project is incorporated into school lessons for all students.
“We’re using that to generate some relevant math questions,” said teacher Terri Mason. “We can say, they sold $80 in ribbons, how many more ribbons do they need to sell to reach their goal?”
“In science, we’re learning about how scientists are using innovative techniques to approach a problem instead of using just a traditional treatment,” she said. “Even if a treatment is expensive and it might not be covered by insurance, it’s still a worthwhile endeavor.”
Students are also learning how to write a mission statement, conduct research, identify facts vs. opinions, design flyers, and put together a social media campaign, said teacher LaKeisha Jones-Mabry.
But in some ways, the fourth-graders have taught the adults a lesson.
“One thing I’ve learned from this as a parent and as an adult is don’t ever underestimate what a kid can do,” Watson said. “Let them show you. As parents and adults we tend to complicate things. Kids just say, ‘Why not? Why can’t we do something big?’ It’s about being young and having a heart — and doing something.”