BLOOMFIELD — “I felt kind of upset because nobody should have cancer.”
That’s what Lace Atkinson, a fifth-grader at Star Center Elementary School, said Dec. 10, while explaining why her class raised money to help the family of 7-year-old leukemia patient Keegan Denecke, of Genoa City.
“I know the family,” Atkinson said. “Her dad is my coach for football.”
Atkinson’s teacher, Bridget Savaglia, said the fifth-grader mentioned Denecke in class when they were discussing the Legacy Project, a sort-of tradition in her class that was inspired by an important transition for all public school fifth-graders.
“We work really hard on academics all year, and a couple years ago, I could see that my students were excited to go on to the next step in middle school, but I could tell that they were going to miss Star,” Savaglia said. “So, it’s like a senior project, but I thought, why not do one for (going to) middle school?”
A legacy, she said, “is something you leave behind.”
“We wanted to leave behind something positive,” Savaglia said.
She said, because a couple of her 19 students also know people with cancer, she suggested that they focus on doing something to help.
“And they were like, ‘Yeah, because you need a lot of money to fight cancer,’” said Savaglia.
On the afternoon of Dec. 10, fifth-graders conducted a “Santa’s workshop.” The class raised $150 by asking children who wanted to attend the workshop, to make ornaments and write letters to Santa, for $3.
The goal was $90, said Savaglia, because originally, they were going to set a 30-student limit for the event. Forty-two kids registered, which brought in $126.
So where did the rest come from?
“Some of the families from my class donated,” Savaglia said.
For the first Legacy Project, fifth-graders selected work they did that year to hang in the school halls. The theme was perseverance and excellence.
“I had a student who was not particularly good in math, but they did really good on a math test,” Savaglia said. “So, another student said, ‘This should go out there.’”
The next year’s theme was community service.
Savaglia said these fifth-graders, who graduated from Star Center last year, raised money for a school district in Moore, Okla. The district’s Plaza Towers Elementary and Briarwood schools were destroyed by a tornado.
Now, Savaglia’s fifth-graders are taking on a year-round legacy project. Each month of the school year, the class will raise money to go toward some aspect of fighting cancer, including cancer research efforts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin.
The class will be running the school store, selling lollipops in February and conducting a bake sale and other activities to raise money.
“I have high expectations of my students,” Savaglia said. “Part of that isn’t just what they do in the classroom. It’s not just our school work, but how they treat themselves and each other and our larger community.”
Atkinson said this month’s funds will go to the Deneckes, who are fighting not just leukemia but have additional expenses as well.
“The money would go toward gas (for them) to go to the Children’s Hospital (in Milwaukee),” Atkinson said. “They go there three times a week.”
Savaglia said she was proud of her students for coming up with this idea for the Legacy Project.
“I know I started the conversation, but you don’t always get everyone to be enthusiastic about it,” she said. “Everyone was enthusiastic and they all came up with ways to help.”
What legacy will this group of fifth-graders leave behind?
“I think my class is already known as a caring and thoughtful group,” Savaglia said. “They’re a thoughtful, conscientious group of students. People wouldn’t be surprised that this is something they wanted to do.”