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AAE Member & Idaho Teacher of the Year Fights Cancer and Poverty
posted by: Melissa | May 12, 2017, 06:59 PM   

What do you want to be when you grow up?

The question every child is asked. Some find their answer and some are inspired.

Mary Spiker inspires children every day. When they walk into her class, children walk into a magical learning environment.

mrs_spiker_and_tannerA perfect example of how she uses every opportunity to engage her families is when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. As her journey unfolded her class became concerned about her bald head. Each student, along with their parents chose a favorite book and created a hat to go along with it. She shared each story in class and wore the coordinating hat throughout the day. At the end of the year, all of the hats and books were donated to Relay for Life and were placed in their general store to raise funds for cancer research.

During the year, the cancer center counselor visited with her students so they would understand what was going on. He put a chunk of sod on a cookie sheet that had a large dandelion growing in it. When he cut the dandelion out, he talked to them about her lumpectomy. Then he sprayed water but pretended it was a poison to kill the roots that were left behind when he dug the weed out. He compared that to the chemotherapy. He explained how that poison would cause her hair to fell out. They took the time to listen to the children’s stories and answer their questions - even the hard ones like, “Is she going to die?”

Ms. Spiker will always remember the last day of school. Instead of the kids giving her a hug when they left for the summer, they simply wanted to rub her bald head, one more time. One little girl stated, “When I grow up, I am going to be a doctor and put an end to cancer!” Eight years later, that young lady is still planning on becoming an oncologist.

This 2017 Idaho Teacher of the Year chooses to work in a high poverty school where she teaches children who are food insecure, homeless, the victims of abuse and neglect, live in foster care, dealing with the incarceration of one or both parents, dealing with the trauma of divorce or loss of a parent. Many of these students come to school lacking a secure emotional base which can inhibit their learning. She works tirelessly to empower families to come on board with their child. She believes school is a place for everyone. It is where families, community, and educators come together to empower one another through different learning opportunities, holding meaningful conversations, and working together to change circumstances and offer new possibilities.

The following poem was used with Ms. Spiker’s Hat/Book project during her cancer treatment.

Head Huggers with Heart

What is a hat if not a hug for your head?

A way to help fight off the feeling of dread.

It makes you feel happy and silly and warm,

And surrounds you with love to weather the storm.

Head Huggers are designed to be one of a kind,

To bring a story or character to the front of one’s mind.

They are created with love and one’s imagination,

They are a special gift from the younger generation.

Celebrating differences in this special way,

Says having a bald head is simply “okay.”

So wear this hat with love from the start,

And remember it was created from a child’s heart.

We congratulate Ms. Spiker on her recovery from cancer and wish her many more years of inspiring students to make their dreams come true!

Cindy Omlin is Executive Director for NWPE, AAE's chapter in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.  
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