Science Hill —
What began at Science Hill School as an effort to honor two classmates fighting leukemia took a sudden turn in February when Chanissa “Nissa” Robinson, 14, lost her battle with the disease.
But organizers for the “Relay Recess,” an event for the American Cancer Society, knew Nissa’s passing made the event all the more important for the school’s more than 500 students — many of whom were grappling with Nissa’s death or were classmates of first grader Kelly Melton, who is now fighting his own battle with leukemia.
“We were doing it (the Relay Recess) in honor (of Kelly and Nissa), so now it’s in memory and in honor,” said Science Hill school nurse Greta Mounce, one of several organizers behind the event.
Mounce isn’t a stranger to cancer and its effects. She used to work in a cancer treatment center as a nurse, and she’s watched as loved ones have lost their battles with the disease.
She, even now, has family members who are fighting cancer.
That connection — knowing someone who has fought the disease — is one reason why the school’s staff looked into bringing the Relay Recess to Science Hill. The fact that the school’s students, the youngest members of the Science Hill family, now knew classmates fighting the disease made it even more important to have the event.
And Nissa’s death turned the event into one of remembrance as much as education.
Students spent much of Friday learning about cancer and its ravages — and about ways to prevent the disease.
“Students at these ages have such a passion in learning, so what better time to teach them about cancer prevention than now?” asked Brooke Whitis, community representative with the American Cancer Society. “They learn together as a team about how nutrition, physical activity, sun protection, and tobacco prevention can help them avoid cancer.”
Mounce said the educational aspect of the Relay Recess was important, especially because it teaches young people at an early age about cancer and how to prevent it.
“You can’t stop all cancer, but there are some things you can do to help prevent it,” said Greta.
Also featured during Friday’s Relay Recess was a luminaria ceremony — the same ceremony featured every year at the community’s ACS Relay for Life.
The students decorated special luminaria bags to set inside the gym in honor of those who lost their battle with cancer. It was no surprise that several of the bags were decorated with Nissa’s name.
And then, to top off the day, the students released more than 500 balloons — which were bought for $1 each to go to the ACS — on the school’s outdoor basketball court in remembrance of loved ones who died fighting cancer.
“I think it was a healing process,” said Mounce, about the Relay Recess and the balloon release.
Whitis, who was on hand Friday during the day-long event, said Science Hill’s Relay Recess was the first she had seen on such a large scale.
“(Mounce) and her team did an amazing job,” said Whitis. “This is the first school I’ve seen to do a full Relay Recess.”
Whitis on Friday was obviously touched by the school’s effort. And she couldn’t help but hope the luminaria ceremony and balloon release helped students grapple with questions that are left after Nissa’s passing and as Kelly continues to fight his own disease.
“I really hope this helped some of these kids express what they felt,” said Whitis.