Kids These Days
● By Style
Photos by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group.
If you hear someone complaining about “kids these days,” do them a favor. Tell them about the students at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Roseville. Tell them about 10-year-old Kylie Nguyen.
Kylie used to be shy – well liked, but reserved. The “little girl in the background,” as her mom Christy puts it. Then Kylie got cancer, and she became a force to be reckoned with.
Kylie is a third grader at Thomas Jefferson. Last year she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. For her mom, the news was a bolt out of the blue. “Cancer was not even in the realm of what we were thinking.” The first month was an emotional roller coaster for the whole family – husband Don, brother Dylan, 7, and sister Hayden, 4. “But our friends, family and community have been amazing.”
They sure have. About the same time Kylie was diagnosed, the student council adviser at Thomas Jefferson, Laurie McDevitt, introduced a new charitable effort to her students for the first time. Pennies for Patients is a national fundraising effort by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
McDevitt says the timing was serendipitous – she started it after running a marathon sponsored by the Society; she only learned of Kylie’s cancer later.
Pennies for Patients raises money exactly as the name implies: Kids bring in all the loose change they can scrounge from under couch cushions, car seats, and by shaking down Mom and Dad. Because it was a new venture, McDevitt and her student council set a modest goal: Over a two-week period, they hoped to raise $600, or about a dollar per student. But what nobody counted on was Kylie. Due to treatments, Kylie wasn’t at school during the fundraiser; however, just knowing about her, McDevitt says, put a face to the task. The 600 students at Thomas Jefferson brought in $4,711.16. McDevitt was blown away.
It didn’t hurt that various teachers threw vanity to the wind and upped the ante with a little good ol’ fashioned public humiliation. One teacher said she would let students color her hair pink if they brought in a certain amount. McDevitt told her students they could cut hers for $400; they did. “I immediately went to a hair salon afterward.”
This year, Kylie is still undergoing treatment but attending class again. McDevitt asked Kylie if she wouldn’t mind getting up in front of the student body to help kick off the second annual Pennies for Patients effort in late February. Kylie’s mom wasn’t sure her shy kid would say yes, but Kylie didn’t hesitate. Soon, the “little girl in the background” was standing before her peers at two different assemblies, narrating a multimedia presentation she and Mom put together. Her words, and the photos, didn’t shy away from the realities of her battle. Was she nervous? Yes, she says, “...but also confident.” Fired up, students started scratching up loose change again. Teachers offered more challenges of follicular alteration; her fourth grade teacher, Mr. Hood, offered to shave off his beard of 20 years for $400.
The students of Thomas Jefferson raised $5,059.45 this year, surpassing last year’s total by $349.29. Mrs. McDevitt visited her stylist again, and Mr. Hood’s chin is reacquainting itself with the open air.
It’s amazing when something that could break a person ends up making them stronger. It’s awe-inspiring when that person is a charismatic 10-year-old with big, lively eyes and lots of brown hair that’s finally growing back. Kylie herself says, “I’m much more positive than I used to be. I still worry a lot, but now when I worry I realize I’m gonna do this.” And by “do this” she means everything – from her chores and homework, to beating cancer.
Yeah. Kids these days. Indeed.