Youngsters help hope bloom

Two pupils' project aids cancer fight, remembers a teacher

March 21, 2001|By Laura Dreibelbis | Laura Dreibelbis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A hint of spring came early to Worthington Elementary School, but perhaps more important was a seed of hope planted as pots and bunches of bright yellow daffodils were delivered to the school community - purchased to help fund cancer research.

A daffodil - the flower of hope associated with cancer research - served as a reminder of Leslie Chapman, Gifted and Talented Resources teacher at the Ellicott City school. Chapman, well liked and respected by staff and school families, died in September from complications associated with melanoma. She was 43.

Two third-grade pupils of Chapman's, confused and concerned when their teacher died, decided to do a research project to learn more about the disease and dedicated it to Chapman.

"In memory of her we decided to do this report," said Becky Gagnon, 8.

Becky and Katie Andersen's report, called a Type III, is an investigation of a real-life problem that allows Howard County public school pupils to conduct in-depth research about a topic to try to devise a way to inform others.

The project aims to help pupils become more knowledgeable in their topic and act as an advocate on behalf of other children, said Andrea Gershman, Gifted and Talented Resource teacher at the Ellicott City school. She added that the project allows them to go beyond the curriculum, get involved and bring about change.

Becky and Katie have been interviewing doctors, writing letters to the American Cancer Society and obtaining information on melanoma from the Internet. They know melanoma is a type of skin cancer that needs to be caught early by careful observation of moles. They have written safety and prevention measures to advise children on what to look for and ways to protect their skin.

The two easily rattled off the slogan "Slip, Slap, Slop and Wrap," which they learned during their research. The phrase means slip on a T-shirt, slap on a hat, slop on sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) and wrap on sunglasses.

Because of their commitment to the project, the girls were chosen to assist with the daffodil project, conducted nationally every year by the American Cancer Society and usually offered only to school staff members. This year, it was opened to the school community in Chapman's memory.

The girls spoke about cancer and the daffodil drive during morning announcements. Nearly 100 orders were received totaling $713.50 in donations this year, compared with about an average of $60 to $70.

The girls carefully checked their order list, wrapped flowers and handed bunches to parents, pupils and staff who trickled in to pick them up last week. "I think it's cool - me and Becky are having fun," Katie said.

One parent asked if this had been a lot of fun or a lot of work. "Fun," they responded in tandem.

"We hope it will help people in the future with cancer," said Becky. And Katie said they felt the money is going to a good cause.

"If they inform other children about the perils of being sunburned at an early age, they can prevent their own bodies from being subjected to skin cancer for the future," Gershman said.

Becky's mother, Mary Gagnon, saw a healing opportunity in addition to education. She said she the project made the girls feel that they are contributing and doing something tangible.

Some parents wrote the girls notes on flower orders expressing appreciation for their efforts, saying it was a good way to remember Chapman.

One person sent in a donation and the girls wrote a thank you note saying that though some people might feel sad about Chapman, others don't want her memory to fade.

"The bottom line is, it's [melanoma] a real-life problem," Gershman said.

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