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    By Todd Martin

    Scientific research met community service and spurred on a wave of compassion at the Killeen ISD Middle School STEM Academy.

    The new “school within a school” at the just-opened Roy J. Smith Middle School uses Project Based Learning, challenging students to use their learning to support the community in real-world ways.

    Science teacher Connie Cox directed students since the first day of school in researching various forms of cancer and to produce presentations to show at a community health fair later this month.

    In the midst of conducting research and meeting with representatives of local medical providers, the students went a step further and came up with gifts for those undergoing cancer treatment.

    In a “Gathering of the Gifts” moment Monday at the school, representatives from the Baylor Scott & White Cancer Center at Killeen and the McLane Children’s Hospital in Temple picked up a variety of gifts to present to patients.

    Baylor Scott & White Hematology-Oncology Manager Christopher Valmores and McLane Children’s Hospital Volunteer Services Manager Lisa Gingerich sorted through the gifts, dividing them between adult and children, all the while pointing out the students’ generosity.

    “They are learning about cancer to present at a health fair and we provided information that we use to communicate with patients,” Valmores said. “They asked about the emotional side of our care, too.”

    Students wanted to know how patients and caregivers deal with the reality of a cancer diagnosis, leading to a desire to give toys, blankets, notebooks of encouraging notes and other items.

    “They were not just exploratory, but self reflective,” Valmores said. “I see a lot of good things here addressing comfort and empathy.”

    Cox challenged her students to investigate a form of cancer that has a personal aspect and wanted students to talk to the care providers and to people who have gone through cancer treatment.

    Seventh-grader Darius Steverson focused on breast cancer, which he said was an initial diagnosis for a family member, though it turned out to be a different form of the disease.

    He made a sign in the shape of a ribbon with the words “you can beat breast cancer” and pink feathers, all in line with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

    “I found out about symptoms and treatments and diagnosis,” he said. “I learned about risks and how it infects the body.”

    “I think it’s cool that in this grade and at this age that we have this chance,” Steverson said. “We get to go more in-depth with what we’re studying. It’s pretty cool.”

    KISD STEM Director Cynthia Hodges said students’ work served as a great early example of the Project Based Learning model, mixing research and other academic skills with reaching into the community.

    “It teaches students to be more mindful they are part of a community and having empathy,” she said. “I think these students are responding. They were able to choose a form of cancer to study and they were an influential part of their community.”

    “Cancer has a social aspect,” said Gingerich, who took gift items appropriate for children to the hospital in Temple.

    She said the students picked up on the reality that patients sometimes spend six or more hours at a time in treatment and need to have something to occupy their time. In addition to hard candy and books, there were handmade blankets, decorated pillows and collections of encouraging notes.

    “It’s amazing to see children seeing beyond themselves,” Gingerich said. “They may not realize the impact they are having on people’s lives.”

    October 2, 2017

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