EMS kids canvass heartland for cancer fund-raiser

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By Stephen Knapp

When Evergreen Middle School teacher Chet Andes bicycles from Denver, Colo., to Denver, Pa., this summer to benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer research, he can expect a warm reception at nearly every village, town and city along the 2,000-mile route. For that, he can thank the several teams of industrious EMS eighth-graders who spent the last two months paving a way through America’s heartland.

“We were assigned groups, and every group was assigned cities that he’d be riding through or going close by,” explains 14-year-old Will Stinson. “I did the Quad Cities on the Illinois-Iowa border.”

“We found out online about all the newspapers, TV stations and radio stations in each city,” continues Sara Gillette. “Our job was to contact each one and send them a media packet.”

“The media packet has a summary about how Mr. Andes’ mother, grandfather and great-grandfather all got cancer within months of each other, and a summary of his ride and when he’ll be in their city,” says Erin Dobey, 13. “We also summarized how cancer has affected us personally. Mr. Dunn wrote the bio of Mr. Andes, but the kids did everything else.”

Mr. Dunn is EMS language arts teacher J.R. Dunn, the project’s organizer and a close friend of Andes. Marshaling his students’ efforts behind Andes “Denver2Denver” ride, Dunn saw, could serve several worthy purposes.”

“When we started coming up with ideas about how to blanket media outlets, we realized we couldn’t do it with the small group we had,” he says. “So I brought it up with the kids, and they were really on board with it.

“We wanted to make sure that, if the kids got involved, it was educational. The media packets are writing-based and include persuasive writing, self-reflection, summarizing, analysis — they’re a composite of all their writing styles that transcends any one unit. And they’re some of the best writing I’ve seen from my students.”

“It took a lot of time,” Erin says. “First we tried to divide up all the tasks evenly; then there was a lot of editing and revising to make it sound more professional.”

“This project contributes to a positive work ethic, and to their maturity,” Dunn says. “They realize that people are relying on them, and they have to find ways to fulfill their end.”

The names of cities and towns march down the blackboard in Dunn’s classroom in orderly rows. Fort Lupton, Colo.; McCook, Neb.; Oskaloosa, Iowa; Bryan, Ohio; Indianapolis, Ind.; Montoursville, Pa. Those written in yellow are places Andes will merely pass through, those in red are media hubs, and names marked with a star are major cities requiring several media packets. Every one has a line drawn through it, indicating that local media have been brought up to speed, although not without occasional resistance.

“Sometimes when you called the people thought it was a prank, and they’d yell and slam the phone,” says Will. “A radio station in Davenport, Iowa, KBOB, wouldn’t tell us anything at all. They kept asking if we listened to KBOB and what radio stations we usually listened to.”

“The kids learned very quickly to have their questions prepared ahead of time,” Dunn says. “That real-world application is what makes this such a great unit. Oftentimes in language arts, the kids feel it’s removed from them. This is very specific to their experience, and it’s helping the community in which they live. They’ll get to see the result of what they’re doing.”

In all, about 135 eighth-graders prepared and sent an impressive 90 press kits to media outlets from Sterling, Colo., to Griswold, Iowa, to Pittsburgh, Pa. To hear them tell it, it was time well spent.

“I wouldn’t say it was fun,” Will admits, “but it was really rewarding”

“If Denver2Denver can raise more money for cancer research, it can definitely save lives in the future,” Sara explains. “It could prevent people from getting cancer, and people who have cancer now can get the treatment they need.”

To learn more about Chet Andes’ cross-country ride, call him at 720-635-9891 or visit www.denver2denver.org.