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#ThankYou Thursday: CTHS Student Leadership students donate $5K to PPE fabrication

Members of the Cherokee Trail Student Leadership team. The COVID crisis left the members of Cherokee Trail High School’s Student Leadership Team with plenty of disappointments.

Like countless other high school students across the Cherry Creek School District, the state of Colorado and the nation, the 34 teenagers involved in CT’s student government had to accept disheartening prospects for their spring semester. Due to the statewide shutdown of public schools, they would finish their academic year without all of the expected milestones – there’d be no Prom, no Mr. Cherokee Trail celebration, no spring sports and, perhaps most devastating of all, no further firsthand contact with peers, teachers and staff members on the Cherokee Trail campus.

“They were so heartsick. They were heartbroken,” said Tammy Johnson, CT’s Student Leadership teacher. “These students are athletes and artists and performers. They’re involved in all areas of our school.”

One of the events that had to be canceled in the wake of the COVID closures was the group’s Student Leadership Banquet, an end-of-the-year gathering and celebration where students would celebrate teachers, family, community and shared accomplishments throughout the year. Through fundraisers, events and sponsorship, CT’s Student Leadership group had raised funds for the banquet before the crisis upturned plans for the rest of the year. Along with money set aside for the school’s Teacher Appreciation Week, these were funds that suddenly had no purpose, but not for long.

Amid all of the disappointment, confusion and stress wrought by the cancellations, the students found a shared mission. They wanted the money that had been earmarked for the banquet to serve a purpose; they wanted to contribute to a cause greater than themselves. According to Johnson, the students wanted to make good on Leadership’s mission statement: “In an effort to leave a legacy and evoke change, we will stand up, stand out and include all!” They were likewise cognizant of the Student Leadership’s core value, to “commit to a cause greater than your own,” and of the theme for the year, “Make an ImpaCT: If not me, then who?”

They found the chance to make good on all of those values when they saw a video about teachers in the Cherry Creek School District who were putting their own health at risk to manufacture Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for local healthcare workers. CT’s Student Leadership team found inspiration in the story of district teachers using district equipment to contribute to the fight against the COVID virus.

“There was our answer,” Johnson said. “The students wanted the money to go to those serving on the front lines, to keep it local. When I told them about the effort during a Zoom meeting, it was the first time I saw joy in their eyes since they had found out they weren’t going to be able to finish the school year. It’s who my kids are. It’s what they do.”

The students immediately made the decision to donate $5,000 to those manufacturing life-saving equipment for those on the front lines. The money was donated to the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation's Emergency Relief Fund, and went directly to the fabrication of equipment for local medical professionals. The decision aligned with Leadership’s community activism in previous years – the group had coordinated fundraisers for those impacted by fires in California and hurricane in Louisiana; this year’s Wish Week drive at Cherokee Trail raised about $50,000 for a child recovering from a life-threatening illness.

Donating the banquet and teacher appreciation funds to a greater cause was another way to help; it was a way to turn disappointment into inspiration.

“Being home, I know I’m helping keep my family safe, but there’s the other part of me who wants to do more and help more people during this difficult time,” said junior Madi Devries. “Our donation made me so happy because it meant I was doing more. The money is going to an amazing cause that will help people and save lives. There is nothing more meaningful than that.”

The students’ selflessness and determination served as a model and an inspiration for Johnson, who will finish her final year as Leadership teacher in May. Just like the seniors who will have to forgo the final milestones of their high school careers, Johnson has had to accept the fact that she’ll miss out on the final months of the year with her students.

She’s used her students as role models to find a way to get past the disappointment.

“It’s a bummer to not finish those things. Speaking on a selfish level, it’s sad, but the hardest part is seeing my students struggle, seeing the seniors who won’t be able to enjoy those moments,” Johnson said. “But every single one of these students has a genuine desire to make a difference in our community. They’re eager to make an impact. It’s not just my 34 kids who make a difference. It’s everyone in the community.

“I’m so blessed to teach there and be a part of our Cougar Nation,” she added.Members of the CT Student Leadership team

Input from Cherokee Trail Student Leadership members:

Brad Heap, Junior: “I felt really inspired when I heard that we were donating $5,000 to PPE, as it took money that was going to be used to benefit one group of people (students at CT) and instead became a resource for the entire community. Those PPE masks will save lives, and while we’re all still bummed about spring activities being cancelled, I think we’re all grateful to be able to make a real difference in the community.” 

Alyssa Kimes, Junior: “I was really excited because it meant we were still able to make an impact on our community even in these hard times.”

Mikayla Gallant, Junior: “When I heard we were donating $5,000 for PPE, I felt like we were encouraging a supportive outlook to the people on the front line. Sometimes, we can get caught up in how the virus is affecting us and our high school experience, but our lives have not been affected nearly as much as theirs. By donating the money, we committed to a cause greater than our personal griefs and we are helping those who are endangering their lives for us.”

Emma Reichert, Junior: “It made me so happy to hear that we were donating $5,000 to PPE. I forgot how much money we had set aside for our cancelled events and I’m very glad they are being put to not only good use, but PERFECT use. It’s so cool that teachers are using their ability to create masks to help those who are helping all of our communities through this time.”

Katie Ellinger, Sophomore: “When I heard that we were donating $5,000 for PPE I personally got very emotional. The people that are on the front lines and working 15-hour shifts are making such hard decisions. Each and every one of them is so, so strong.”

Taisa Seija, Junior: “I think the donation truly reflects one of our goals in Student Leadership, which is helping others without really expecting anything in exchange. I think it’s a great way to show that even in the toughest times, we still united as a community and that we are in this together.”

Caden Cole, Sophomore: “When I found out that we were donating $5,000, it was a huge sigh of relief. I felt relieved to know that we were still helping people even though we are in our own homes, and that we were still making an impact in other people’s lives.”

Josh Belzer, Junior: “When I heard that Leadership was doing this, I was excited because it was a way for us, as a class, to impact our community even when we weren’t in the building. It shows we’re finishing strong and keeping our “Make an Impact” theme in mind during this difficult time.”

Posted 4/16/20 at 1:30 PM