College 20-some years ago didn’t prepare teacher Candace Rhode to lose students. Children are supposed to glow with health and energy.
But this year, one of Candace’s third-graders - a round-faced little boy with a Cheshire cat smile - has an inoperable tumor on his brain stem. It most likely is fatal.
Teachers at Borah Elementary had spotted learning problems with Clayton (his parents prefer their last name not be used) and recommended a physical exam. The results struck them speechless.
“My first feeling was, ‘How do I deal with this?’ and then, ‘How do I tell my students?”’ Candace says, looking like a forlorn giant in one of Room 11’s tiny classroom chairs.
She gave in to her grief among other teachers.
“We learned it was OK to fall apart among ourselves,” says Cindy Clutter, Borah’s special education teacher.
The March day doctors opened Clayton’s head, Candace faced her class. She knew Clayton’s friends would wonder why the third-grade POG champion was out of school for so long.
Candace was honest. She stressed compassion. The children read seriousness in her voice, face, walk, and were silent. Parents later told her that students saved their tears for the safety of home.
Students wrote to Clayton. One girl wrote that his desk was empty and she missed him. In private, Candace wept.
In April, students washed cars and bicycles, mowed lawns and recycled cans to earn money for their friend. He had to go to Spokane for radiation treatments. The money helped his grateful parents pay travel expenses.
Clayton returned to school last month with surgery scars and permanent-marker targets from radiation on his head. When he lost his hair, his father cut his to match. The kids didn’t giggle; they were just happy to have Clayton back in his chair.
School ends for summer today, but Room 11 will keep close tabs on Clayton. Candace put his phone number and address in each student’s report card.
“We’ve learned this year to support each other,” she says. “We’re one big family. The kids know that now.”
What better way to launch a new series on Northwest authors than to invite the cream of Idaho’s historical writers to Coeur d’Alene?
Carlos Schwantes, University of Idaho history guru, will team up with Keith Petersen, Jack Nisbet and Priscilla Wegars all day Thursday in North Idaho College’s Kootenai Room.
With their books tucked under their arms, they’ll cover stagecoaches and steamboats, life and death on Idaho’s rivers, and Chinese immigrants in the north. Sounds like a hot program and it’s free.
Get away from it all
Lisa, 12, wants to be a cheerleader. Abraham, 11, wants to play trumpet. Stephanie, 11, rises before the chickens to deliver papers. All three live at St. Vincent’s Transitional Housing Center in Coeur d’Alene.
They and seven other children want to escape the center during the summer for the Youth for Christ day camp in City Park. The kids have planned two car washes to raise the $1,000 they need. The first is Tuesday in Runge Furniture’s parking lot, 303 Spokane Ave. The second is July 21. Camp starts June 19.
If your car isn’t dirty, how about just dropping off some cash? If these kids want to keep busy, let’s help them.
“The faster I go, the dunner I get,” Nick Blank, 6, theorized when he thought his swimming lessons were getting shorter but his mother told him they weren’t. What deep thoughts have your children shared with you?
Spill them to Cynthia Taggart, “Close to Home,” 608 Northwest Blvd., Suite 200, Coeur d’Alene, ID, 83814; fax them to 765-7149; or call 765-7128 and make me laugh.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo