There has been story after story on how the people of Elsberry come together in times of need. Somehow it never gets old, nor does it seem to dissipate. No matter how dire a situation becomes, Elsberry residents, students and teachers go that extra mile; and as Emily Darr just learned, when they unite, they really unite.
“My daughter was born with Primary Immunodeficiency Disease. Her immune system does not function properly leaving her susceptible to illnesses,” explains Dona Darr, Emily’s mother. “So far this school year she has missed 20 days of school and as a last ditch effort to keep her in school; I decided to send her to school wearing a mask.”
Dona said she notified the school and Emily’s Fifth Grade Teacher, Scott Cleveland, of her decision. However, what came next is something Dona never would have thought possible; selflessness by students and teachers alike.
“After talking to Dona and knowing Emily might feel out of place wearing a mask, I figured why not buy some for all of the kids,” said Cleveland. “I knew kids say things when they see something different, so I thought, why not have 22 kids be different? Teachers and students in other grades all made comments about the masks when we would walk by; I think they were pretty confused by it.”
Cleveland said he went to three different stores before finding enough masks, but he said he also knew he had a good group of kids, given the option, would stand behind their classmate.
“I feel blessed to have a school staff that cares enough to go beyond the norm to help try and keep a child healthy,” said Dona. “I also feel blessed that Emily’s friends cared enough for her to accept the mask as a part of what sometimes has to be done to keep her from getting sick.”
Dona said she wasn’t present in the classroom when the class was asked if they wanted to wear the masks. However, she did know Cleveland had bought the masks and that he was going to ask the class.
“Not knowing how the masks would be received, I had asked Mr. Cleveland to text me a picture,” said Dona. “When I received the text, all I could do was cry. I really didn’t expect so many of the kids to be wearing them.”
Dona went on to say that Emily was extremely apprehensive about wearing her mask. In fact, she said she had to sit down with Emily and have a talk about the possibility of teasing and staring.
“Emily understood the reasoning for wearing the mask and did so,” said Dona. “Again, I wasn’t there when the masks came out, but that afternoon when she came to the bus the first thing she told me was ‘Mom! The whole class wore masks with me today!’”
Cleveland said Emily was happy to see so many friends wearing the masks.
“I even had kids in other fifth grade classes ask if they could have one,” said Cleveland. “Some of the kids that ride Donna’s bus asked her for masks to wear the next day.”
This was not something Cleveland wanted to turn into a big deal. For him it was just about a student, who has health concerns and a way for his students and himself to stand behind their friend.
“I just can’t say enough about Mr. Cleveland, his fifth grade class and the Elsberry Middle School,” said Dona. “This act of kindness shown to Emily, by her class and Mr. Cleveland, has certainly made me very proud to live in our small town. The community comes together to help those in need no matter what those needs are, even if it’s just wearing a mask to school to try and prevent illness.”
Unfortunately because of health concerns, Emily is currently in a home bound situation. Cleveland said they use his iPad and Emily “virtually” sits in his class via Skype. She goes to the other two classrooms and sits and listens to lectures and presentations. Skype allows Emily to be in school while she is at home.
“Emily has what is called Primary Immunodeficiency Disease, which is an umbrella term for over 150 different types of immune system disorders,” explains Dona. “She was born with a defect in three different areas of her immune system which leaves her susceptible to frequent “common” illnesses, which due to the frequency can cause long term damage to her entire respiratory system.”
Due to the frequent illnesses, Dona said Emily misses several days of school, so Skype School, as it has been termed, gets her into the classroom. She is able to hear what the teacher is teaching. It allows her to hear questions asked by the kids, as well as, ask questions herself.
“It allows her to see and interact with her classmates. So although she is physically not there, she goes to school every day and then sees a teacher a couple times a week for some one on one instruction.,” said Dona. “My concern as her mom, is not only to keep her healthy, but also to make sure she receives her education. Our situation is a little unique and Skype School has allowed us to do both.”
Dona added that Emily thinks it’s pretty cool being able to use her home computer and to attend school.
“At the beginning of each year I make a point to tell the students how important it is to be in school,” said Cleveland. “When you miss school, you miss given instructions on a subject and the discussions that went with it. I knew that Emily was going to miss some days and if we could make them less by wearing a mask or by using Skype, then that is what we would do. I don’t think that what I did was any big deal, I believe that any of the other teachers in the district would do the same thing for their students.”
Dona said she doesn’t think she could put into words how much their actions meant to her and Emily, nor does she feel a simple thank you would do justice. However she wanted to say this: “To the kids in the class: Thank you so much for supporting Emily and accepting that sometimes things have to be a little different for her. All of you are so amazing. To Mr. Cleveland: Thank you for your patience, understanding, and acceptance. You have gone way above and beyond what I could have ever hoped for in a teacher for Emily. I will never be able to thank you enough. I also want to thank Mr. Jason Miller, Middle School Principal; Summer Hagemeier, Middle School Guidance Counselor, and the entire school staff for their help and support. And a big thank you for Cannon Watts; Skype School would not have been possible if not for his work in getting it set up.”