By John Rice
I believe students at Forest Park Middle School suffer from an undeserved bad reputation. They are seen as disruptive and disrespectful. It's true some students act this way and hurt the school's image. But the middle-schoolers I recently met did not engage in this behavior. They're too busy saving the world.
They have worked on combatting hunger, raising money for leukemia research, and providing clean drinking water to people in Africa. They are inspired by teachers like Mr. Almaoui and Mr. Staser, who raise their awareness of these problems. They also receive leadership from Ms. Carlisle and Ms. Allocco, who run the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS).
Motivation, though, primarily comes from the students. Mr. Almaoui's sixth-graders are particularly fired-up. After Kacie Cysewski, from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, gave a presentation about these deadly diseases, the students raised money for the organization.
Combatting cancer is close to Trinity's heart. The sixth-grader has lost a number of relatives to this disease. "Cancer likes my family," she said. So Trinity and her classmates brought money to school and Mr. Almaoui used it to buy chips and drinks the students could sell. They raised $464 in two months.
They also provided emotional support to leukemia patients. They made cards for them, inscribed with inspirational quotes like, "You will shine brighter than the stars at night." One of the patients was so moved by her card, she wanted to be buried with it.
Chaunise and Rae Lynn also got in on the action, making posters about leukemia. The sixth-graders focused on chemotherapy and researched how effective it is. They learned that chemotherapy can cause fatigue, sickness and even death. This was sobering news for the students.
The students have now moved on from their leukemia project to the cause of clean water. A video from Kenya showed people getting water from "disgusting sources." They learned that clean water is also needed in the Central African Republic. "The land has gold and diamonds but the people are poor," said Chaunise. Rae Lynn added that it is the most dangerous part of the world for children.
To raise money for the water project, students are making beaded bracelets to sell. They are also selling blankets made by students in the NJHS and chew toys for dogs. They plan to sell these items at their charity Kickball Tournament, which will be held at The Park on April 17. They've also started a Crowd Rise page for Kenya, where people can donate online.
The sixth-graders aren't the only ones helping with the water project. Seventh-graders Jakayla, Sabrina and Natalie are also raising money. The trio already helped out at a local food bank, bagging apples for recipients. They feel good about helping the hungry and others who are less fortunate. These FPMS students will be recognized at WE Day, on May 8, at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
WE Charity is an international organization founded in 1995. Its co-founder, Craig Kielburger, addressed the FPMS students via Skype. He praised them as "incredible students who are filled with compassion and kindness."
Despite their good works, the students are aware of their school's reputation. They noted that some of their fifth-grade classmates left District 91 rather than attend FPMS. They don't feel welcome at our local McDonald's. They have this reputation despite the fact that a growing percentage of middle schoolers are qualifying for PMSA.
Imagine that. Going to high school with your friends from middle school. It's common in every community across the country. Now it's finally happening again in Forest Park.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com