Fredericktown Elementary School recently honored three staff members who have fought cancer over the past year.
After being approached with the idea by Assistant Superintendent Melanie Allen, Title reading teacher Rhonda Starkey organized the event and enlisted staff and students to help bring a little cheer and attention to the battles the three women have faced.
Starkey said she wanted to celebrate the three women because “they have been through such a hard battle with cancer and every day, they show up with a smile on their face and we wanted them to know how much we support them.”
Julie Cook is employed by the district’s food service company, OPAA. She assists with preparing warm, nutritious meals for our students, and then cleaning up after them every day. As she underwent treatments for breast cancer, she would still be at school as often as she could, and always with a smile on her face. Her positive outlook and encouraging demeanor helps students feel valued and welcome in the cafeteria.
“Every time you walk in to the cafeteria, Julie has a smile on her face and she’s just ready to meet the students and staff for the day with excitement and energy,” Social Worker Billie McFadden said.
“We’re all family in the kitchen, and no one fights alone,” Fellow cafeteria employee Rhonda Matkin said.
Betty Link is a special education teacher who works tirelessly to meet the diverse needs of her students and implement their individualized education plans. Betty was treated for a brain tumor that was found last year when she began having vision and hearing difficulties. She was fortunate to have a treatment plan that allowed her to be at school most of the time, but it was still a difficult journey for her.
“Betty is an amazing co-worker and teacher,” Speech therapist Rhonda White said. “She’s kind to everyone she encounters.”
“Betty is one of the most positive, kind, and hard-working people I’ve met,” Special education paraprofessional Kristen Lenhardt said.
Christy Pense is a Title reading teacher. She uses her many years of classroom teaching experience to serve small groups of students who need extra support as they learn to read and comprehend. She works as part of a five-member team to implement the school’s tiered support system for reading, and that team has rallied around her as she has battled colon cancer over the past year.
“Christy, you have been a hero to all of us through this whole thing,” Fellow reading teacher Brandi Baker said. “We are so happy that everything has finally went the right direction and that you are back with us.”
Several students echoed the sentiment, saying they missed Mrs. Pense while she was gone, and they are all glad that she is back.
September 28, students and staff at FES dressed in pink, gray, and navy blue, the colors that represent each type of cancer that Cook, Link, and Pense have overcome. Starkey invited members of their families to participate.
The students and staff lined the bus lane in front of the school, and the three ladies walked along the path as everyone cheered, waving signs, ribbons, and pom poms. Following the walk, they each took a turn ringing the “goal bell” at the end of the hallway to signify meeting their goal of completing their treatments.
Rice Krispy treats with pink, gray, and blue ribbons were provided by OPAA for the students, while staff and family members enjoyed cake.
“Mrs. Starkey worked hard to pull together a meaningful event to show Julie, Betty and Christy how much they mean to our FES family,” FES Principal Joe Clauser said. “I have watched these three incredibly strong women face one of the hardest battles in their life, and I have been blown away by how positive they stayed through it all. They are committed to their students and to our school, and they live each day to the fullest. To say that I am proud of them for fighting so hard and winning this battle is definitely an understatement.”
“They have shown us how to survive and be strong, and to keep on living life through some very tough battles,” Starkey said.
You can watch the video of the walk at https://youtu.be/Nbqg3-_Nwgg