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2nd graders at Lehigh Elementary receive award
May 9, 2018

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A second grade class at Lehigh Elementary School received the Do The Right Thing Award for a video they created highlighting childhood cancer.

Lehigh Elementary School second grade teacher Rachel Mas said she met Jared Wallace, a fifth grade teacher, and his family when she started working at the school seven years ago.

"When I started to teach fifth grade we became very close as a team," she said, adding that his daughter and her son attended the same daycare.

One day, Wallace had to call off work to take his daughter, Addy, to the doctor, which Mas said made them all concerned.

Wallace said his daughter, Addy, who is now 5, was originally diagnosed with a Wilms tumor Oct. 31, 2015. He said the tumor was found on her right kidney.

"She was fine. Never sick a day of her life," he said.

Addy was starting to go to the bathroom on her own when her father noticed a lot of blood in the toilet. At first the thought was it might be a urinary tract infection, but when it happened again later her parents became concerned.

When Addy went to the bathroom later there was no more trace of blood.

Unfortunately when Wallace checked her pull-ups blood was spotted again.

They saw a doctor.

"The doctor had her go to the bathroom in a cup. There were blood clots in the cup," he said.

When the doctor touched Addy's stomach for five seconds he said he could feel a mass on her kidney. The ultrasound confirmed the mass and the Wallace family was referred to the All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

The tumor, Wallace said was large enough that they were able to remove the right kidney to get rid of the main mass.

Addy, as well as her parents spent a lot of time in the hospital while she underwent chemotherapy and radiation.

"At the end of the six month period we went through six month follow-up scans and she had relapsed," he said. "It came back as bilateral lung cancer. She had it in both lungs."

From there Addy had a very progressive protocol to follow, which meant more chemotherapy, this time three different drugs, instead of two, as well as radiation.

"Within the first month the lesion and mass had disappeared," Wallace said.

With following protocol, Addy had to go through the induction, consolidation and maintenance phase. Wallace said the induction was the full brunt of the treatment.

"She was supposed to go through it for a year, but her body wasn't tolerating the medication well," he said, due to her blood count becoming super low.

After the second of six rounds, the doctors called it quits. Wallace said the doctor reassured them that if Addy made it this far, one round is as good as six.

Now Addy is celebrating one year of being cancer free. The youngster is now doing great and has more energy than ever.

Mas said the idea of creating a video stemmed from new curriculum she was following, with one unit talking about being change makers in the world and community. She said her students learned about different change makers, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr. and Susan B. Anthony.

With all of the "historical big figures" being discussed, Mas said she asked her students if they thought children can be change makers as well.

"They were like, 'yeah, kind of.' Some had mixed feelings. One of them said kids cannot be heroes," she said.

Mas reassured her students that children can be heroes, which resulted in some of her students agreeing.

She told her students, "I know a kid hero. She fights and is an inspiration to others, who looks danger in the eye and is brave enough to face their fears. Who has been through a lot of pain. There is a teacher whose daughter is a hero."

From that point, Mas said the idea was formed, creating a video.

"I tied it into our character writing, writing a narrative. Each student had a part to write about Addy. They wrote their section. We tweaked it and edited it," she said.

Once edited, Mas and her students recorded it a few times before it was perfect. Afterwards, she said she received word from another teacher about the Do The Right Thing Award, doing something awesome for the community and bringing awareness of something.

The video was submitted in October. She sad it was a wonderful surprise when they found out they received the recognition.

"It all started with a question," Mas said. "It was a wonderful learning experience for myself and my children."

Throughout the process, she said her students learned about cancer after witnessing Addy's hair grow back following her treatment.

"I had to explain the process of cancer," she said. "The kids were very concerned."

Mas explained the different types of cancer, the process of what happens when one is diagnosed. She said the project went deeper than teaching the standards of curriculum and narrative writing.

The project helped them understand and experience empathy for someone.

"Kids like them can make a difference giving the situation that they are in, especially with Addy. She made the best of it. I'm teaching them the value of empathy and caring, being brave and strong. That went further than the academics. That helped them realize that they can be better and try to inspire others," Mas said.

The video "Fight Like a Princess Dedicated to Addy and the Wallace Family" earned the class a Do The Right Thing certificate award from Sheriff Mike Scott. Mas said the children received a certificate of special recognition, as well as Lehigh Elementary School receiving an award.

"We also got a trophy, which the kids were super pumped about. We got to be on the school news, they were so pumped about that. They were excited," Mas said.

The video can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yh0tYXbVIjw

"I can't say enough about her (Mas) and the compassion," Wallace said.

He said he is very touched by everyone at Lehigh Elementary School, his "family."

Wallace said the school raised a couple thousand dollars for them through a field day, as well as a T-shirt drive.

"Lehigh was awesome. We had people making dinner for us nightly," Wallace said.

In addition, the Fort Myers Brewery Company held a fundraiser, also raising quite a bit of money for his family after one of his friends, another teacher, approached them. Wallace said the brewery created Addytude, a raspberry beer.

"They bring it back every now and again," he said.

The Do The Right Thing Award has been spotlighting students since 1997 when the Lee County Sheriff's Office wanted to reward students who were making healthy decisions and positive choices, as well as volunteering in their community.

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