CECIL – More than 200 students sat on the gymnasium floor at Cecil Elementary School Tuesday afternoon. Wearing blue and yellow, they sat in uniform lines as they watched principal Tula Dziak address the school’s fundraising during spirit week.
Each year, the school dedicates one week to raising money for a certain cause around the greater Pittsburgh area and Dziak did not have to look far for this year’s recipient. Canon-McMillan High School junior Luke Blanock, who is battling Ewing’s sarcoma, attended Cecil Elementary and lives within walking distance of the small school.
Dziak, whose daughter also attends Canon-McMillan, has been following Blanock’s recovery since a tumor was found in his lower back in early December. Dedicating the school’s spirit week to assist Blanock’s family with medical bills was an easy choice.
Blanock, wearing a stocking cap, slowly walked to the platform stage in the gym where Dziak addressed the students. His mother, Jan, followed him to Dziak’s side where the students’ fundraising efforts were presented in the form of a check in the amount of $4,581.04.
Jan fought back tears as the check was presented while Luke displayed the same smile that has won over the community. Despite his sixth round of chemotherapy treatment set to begin next Wednesday, he was grateful to walk the halls of Cecil Elementary; something he has not done in more than five years.
“Everything feels so much smaller compared to the high school,” Luke said. “I was amazed with the amount of money the kids raised. I can’t believe their generosity and having them behind me makes what I have to go through so much easier. People have no idea how much that actually means to me. The support they give means so much.”
After the presentation, the two classes that raised the most money were awarded for their efforts at Dziak’s expense. Last year, the same fundraising efforts ended with students draping her with whipped cream and chocolate syrup before teachers showered her with sprinkles. This time around, the top two classes were given large plastic syringes filled with blue and yellow paint. Each student took turns spraying Dziak with paint before the teachers threw confetti on top.
With a school enrollment of just 246 students, Dziak was shocked with the amount of money raised, which began with pennies and culminated with parents sending checks. They raised $1,500 more than last year’s total and some parents’ checks reached $100.
“There was not a dry eye in this place,” Dziak said afterward with a mound of blue paint covering her hair. “I was looking to my teachers for support and it was like, ‘You aren’t helping here.’ I think as a mom and as an educator working with children, it gets you and it hits you. We wanted to do something for them, and that really pushed people to give as much as they could.”
As the students filed out of the gymnasium, Luke stood in the hallway where the children reached hands out for high fives, exchanged hellos and one girl even asked for a picture with the 16-year old student who has captured the hearts of people around the community. The kids are not strangers to what Luke is going through. Each grade has sent him a care package during each month of his treatment, which has included greeting cards and other items to help raise Luke’s spirits.
For Jan, watching her son’s enriched spirit during his chemotherapy treatments has helped ease her anxiety from watching him at his weakest. A moment like Friday’s, where a group of young children raised an unexpected amount of money that brought memories of Luke’s childhood back to the forefront; she could not help but display emotion when Dziak presented them with the check.
“It is so amazing they were able to put this together,” Jan said. “I’m blown away. How did they do that? It is unbelievable the support from everybody, but this is our school. This is our big family.”