Evart Middle School participates in Pennies for Patients coin drive

EVART – Evart Middle School’s focus on character education is yielding positive, caring students.

Students recently raised $484.34 through a Pennies for Patients coin drive benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“This cause really seemed to jump out at me because we have at least two survivors in our school of leukemia and lymphoma,” said Jason O’Dell, Evart Middle School principal. “We did the drive in memory of one student, Antonio Downs-Ullom. Our seventh grade class lost a classmate when they were in second grade. I actually was his teacher. That was the most difficult thing I have ever been through, the death of a student. He was a real inspiration to everybody about really fighting. I can remember when the chemo made him sick; he would come to school, go throw up in the restroom, and then come to class. To see that in an 8-year-old, to see the power of still fighting, that just spoke volumes.”

The drive also was completed in honor of seventh grade student Kaylee Henry, 12, who was born with neuroblastoma, which she had surgery to remove at three months old.

Henry was friends with Downs-Ullom, and remembers him as very helpful and kind.

“Sometimes I would feel down and he would make me happy,” she said.

Although she had also fought cancer, Henry said she could not relate to what Downs-Ullom went through, since she was too young to remember the experience. When he lost his battle with cancer, Henry lost a close friend.

“I was sad for almost the whole entire rest of the year,” she said. “I felt really down because I had no one there to help me and lift me up when I was sad.”

Now cancer-free, Henry said it “felt good” to have classmates participate in the drive in her honor.

“It was surprising that everybody came up to me,” she said. “There are people who look like they are mean and act like they are mean but then they come up to you and they actually care for you.”

Through their involvement with the Pennies for Patients drive, O’Dell said he hopes students learn to be considerate, and caring toward their classmates and community.

“The biggest thing we have really been stressing is the fact that you don’t really know the story of the person next to you,” O’Dell said. “Here at our school, we are trying to stress the fact that we are all one big family. We need to understand that there are ups and downs that we all go through, including our fellow classmates, and we need to be understanding and supportive.”