By Jason A. Smith
Students at Ola Middle School put on their walking shoes for a good cause Wednesday -- to support the fight against cancer.
The school held a Mini-Relay on its running track, to raise money for the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life campaign. Students donated money to walk around the track, in honor of cancer victims and survivors, and also helped operate activity booths that surrounded the track.
Christi Harp, media specialist at Ola Middle, and captain of the school's Relay for Life team, served as a coordinator for the Mini-Relay. She said Ola High has participated in the campaign for the last four years. "We have several members of our school community that are survivors, or that we have lost to cancer," said Harp. "So, it really brings the school together, and it's something that they all care about."
Students volunteered to operate booths for face-painting, a dunk tank, as well as selling spirit gear. They also wrote their names on a banner in honor of cancer survivors and victims.
Another feature at the event, Harp said, was a makeshift jail adjacent to the track. "It's a really big dog kennel, and the students go up to the desk and write a warrant for someone," she continued. "They issue the warrant, and ... officers go get them and put them in jail. They can put their friends in jail ... as long as they want."
Harp added that students were placed in the jail, for a sentence of $1 per minute, based on donations.
One Ola Middle student, who found himself in the jail, was sixth-grader, Brandon Rozenburgh. After climbing the jail fence unsuccessfully in an attempt to escape, Rozenburgh said he was eager to support Relay For Life, in memory of his grandmother. "I wanted to help the people that have cancer," he said. "They need the help, because they suffer."
Last year's mini-relay raised $8,000, said Harp. She was hopeful the students would raise the same amount Wednesday. "Last year, we had about 1,700 students, and this year, we only have about 1,200," she said. "Anything we can raise is good."
Kelli Rice, who teaches health at Ola Middle School, as well as a skills for adolescents course, said she was proud that 60 of her students volunteered to run events as a "service learning" project during the Mini-Relay. "They're doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, because we've been studying ... health with cancer -- how bad it is and how close we are to a cure," she said. "Most everybody here has a family member or a friend that's affected by cancer -- either fighting it or dying of cancer. I know science is on the verge of finding a cure, so anything that can make that happen is worth it."
Each student paid $5 to participate in the Mini-Relay, she added.
Rice is one of 15 teachers at Ola Middle, who are scheduled to participate in a Relay For Life event at Woodland High School Friday night. "There are almost 40 schools in the county, and every school is participating," she said. "Any organization can join."
Cara Lipscomb, an eighth-grader at the school, passed out flowers to cancer survivors during the relay. She said she also plans to take part in Friday's event at Woodland High, in memory of her great-grandfather, and a friend of her mother's, who died in November of 2009.
Ola Middle seventh-grader, Jon Skinner, manned a drink table for his fellow students during the event. Skinner said he walked in the Mini-Relay in memory of his aunt, Betty Johnson, who died of lung cancer last year. "I never wanted to see her go," he said. " ... Anything that has to do with cancer, I try my hardest to get in it."