“They say it takes a village to raise a child, and our village came through. I know I made the best choice moving into such a caring district.” — Allison Wilson, mother of an Independence Elementary student who was hospitalized earlier in the school year.
Students at Lakota’s Independence Elementary are gaining wisdom beyond their years this school year.
The school community this winter has faced the unique scenario of three students hospitalized while fighting serious illnesses, and in one case a cancer diagnosis, said principal Greg Finke.
“It’s been a very different year for the kids,” Independence teacher Annette Long said. “The life experience it’s given the kids, the empathy they’ve been able to learn, has been invaluable.”
Independence Elementary staff found themselves in unfamiliar territory during the absences of third-graders William Yahn and Samantha Schaller and fifth-grader William Wilson, who were hospitalized at Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center in downtown Cincinnati.
“You want to protect the kids,” Long said of her class of 24 students, “but at the same time, life happens. You have to deal with it at the level they can handle.”
During their classmates absences, the students became more like a family, she said.
Students passed around a journal to write letters and daily updates to Samantha, Long said.
Through a program at Cincinnati Children’s called “Monkey in my Chair,” Long’s students have the company of a 2-foot tall stuffed monkey that sits in William Yahn’s seat in class. The monkey — named George by William — travels with the class to lunch, recess and all other activities.
“It helps the kids. Everyone is in charge of the monkey for a day and writes down what he did all day,” Long said.
For the students’ parents, the support from the school community is invaluable, they said.
The school was “extremely supportive,” Allison Wilson said, with students making cards and Finke dropping off books and activities for her son, William Wilson, at the hospital.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child, and our village came through,” Allison Wilson said. “I know I made the best choice moving into such a caring district.”
While the students were hospitalized, Finke said he and the school counselor would visit the parents to offer support and reassure them not to worry about any school-related matters. He said the community support has poured in for the families, in the shape of dinners, gas cards, lawn mowing, car pools and prayer chains.
“It makes you feel good about public education and that people still care,” Finke said.
Connie Yahn said she appreciates how flexible the school has been. Staff members at Independence — as well as Wyandot Early Childhood School where her youngest son is a kindergartner — have supported the family through donations and messages on a CarePages site called “OurSpidermansFight,” she said.
“Over Christmas we hadn’t done any shopping,” Connie Yahn said. “They went shopping, wrapped and delivered.”
The daycare where her youngest son is enrolled has also initiated a fundraising effort for the family, Connie Yahn said.
All About Kids, 7015 Yankee Road in Liberty Twp., is selling 2,500 wristbands with the message “Fighting with William,” said Alex Kaiser, marketing director at the daycare.
More than $1,000 has been raised so far, Kaiser said. Proceeds from orders — some received from as far as Utah and Connecticut — will go to the Yahn family.
“We’ve been open for seven years, and never had anything like this with a child sick,” Kaiser said. “It was an eye-opener and a touching moment. We wanted to do something for William and to support the family.”
William Yahn is back home now, undergoing regular chemotherapy treatments at the hospital, Connie Yahn said. He was diagnosed with lymphoma and spent 23 days in the hospital when his cancer spread to his lymph nodes, kidneys and chest, she said.
“The cancer is pretty much gone, but he has to be on chemo for three years,” Connie Yahn said.
William’s classmates recently lined up to excitedly wave hello to him when he stopped by the school to pick up schoolwork. Once he feels strong enough, he will work with volunteer teachers at the hospital to catch up on his studies.
Samantha Schaller and William Wilson are both back in school now, according to Finke.