When classmate Sophia lost her life to cancer this year, Longbranch Elementary students and teachers grieved with Sophia’s family. In the midst of their sorrow and need to ‘do something’, Sophia gave them a powerful purpose when they passed her wish forward to help another child battling cancer treatment. Sophia had wanted nothing more than to swim with the mermaids at Disney World. Before her death, the Make-A-Wish Foundation made this happen for her and her family. When Principal Erika Bowles suggested to Mrs. Melanie Roberts that perhaps their school play could help the community heal and give back to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, teacher Mrs. Roberts and the director, Mrs. Regina Melvin, sprang to action. This is the story of how they empowered their students, teachers, parents, and community partners to collaborate around a powerful service learning experience.
Partnering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation in conjunction with their production of The Little Mermaid, Jr., students raised money for Mya, another local little girl with cancer that had a similar wish as Sophia’s. In addition to practicing their roles, creating props, sets, and market items, the students debated about how much to charge for the admittance. Their decision was to accept any donation people wished to give. In addition, students made items that were sold at the “Market” each night of the play. At last count, Longbranch students and teachers had raised $18,370.00!
Although Mya is still in treatment for lymphoma, a cancer that effects your immune cells, Mya and her family now have the opportunity to visit Disney World to meet with her favorite princesses, including Ariel. The purpose of the Make-A-Wish program is to bring hope, strength, and joy to children experiencing serious illness. These experiences give children something to look forward to despite all the challenges they face.
But the gift truly was reciprocal. Longbranch students and teachers connected learning with compassion, giving them strength and hope because of Sophia, Mya and their families. Members of the cast and crew reflected about what they experienced as their favorite parts of this project. Simone was “grateful to Conner High School students that volunteered by helping the Mersisters learn their lines”. Many students expressed their thanks to Mrs. Roberts, Mrs. Melvin, Mrs. Steele, and others, for making the play happen. Fifth grader Malachi Beesley’s favorite thing is “how everyone gets to express different things.” Tyler Steffen, also a fifth grader, said his favorite thing about the play “is getting to honor Sophia and help Mya get her wish.” Crew member Christina Norsworthy agreed. Her favorite thing is that it is helping other people.