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Kathy McPherson

Melody Guyton Butts

that look remarkably like tiny apartments, the fully stocked kitchen (“How many refrigerators do you have?”) and kid-friendly playrooms. The students consider quite seriously the expansive dining room we will soon be decorating for the holidays, visualizing the cheerful addition of their artwork for families to enjoy. They admire the sunny window seat and cozy nooks where children can snuggle up with a good book, and marvel at the miniature classroom where child-patients keep up their studies during long hospital stays. They just can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner. The first field trip isn’t all fun and games, however. The significance of the house for the families who stay there comes alive for the kids with this experience. “The benefit of taking the tour is that it made a real impression, and it’s continued to spur regular conversations at our house and in the car,” says parent and field trip chaperone Amanda Lacoff. “[Ben]’s gone from thinking that a kid or family is lucky to stay at Ronald McDonald House because it’s ‘fun’ to stay in a ‘hotel’ to realizing that it’s a comfort to have a homeaway-from-home rather than need to stay in the hospital — and that there’s really nothing lucky about being one of those families.” Other first-grade families agree. “Touring the Ronald McDonald House in person is key for children this age to connect to their classroom discussions and pop tabs collecting — and to the world larger than themselves,” says parent Mary Galvez. “As a chaperone, I saw the ‘light bulb’ go off as the first-graders pictured what it would be like to stay in that room and how they could help

is quiet. Families are away at the hospital with their children, or resting after long, exhausting nights. Today, however, we are lucky: As we stand up to begin our tour, a father is just arriving home from the hospital with his infant son. The first-graders are thrilled to see the baby — nearly as thrilled as his dad, who tells the group happily that, after living in the hospital since birth, the baby is finally allowed to come “home.” It is his son’s first day in a big new world, and a momentous and wonderful step for his family. The first graders admire the baby’s baseballthemed onesie. They wave and smile, making silly faces in an effort to get a laugh. Nobody seems to notice or mind the tubes trailing from beneath the baby’s blanket connecting him to his oxygen tank. The rest of our tour is filled with firstgrade enthusiasm as we visit bedrooms suites

make dinner in this kitchen. In this way, the students begin to draw on their developing empathy to understand the mission of the Ronald McDonald House. “As new parents to Durham Academy, we are happy to find that the school’s community service commitment is real, pervasive and school-wide — not simply an afternoon class project that might be forgotten over the weekend but a year-long undertaking incorporated into aspects of the curriculum,” Galvez continued. “This commitment to helping students develop an awareness of and responsibility to their community and world is one of the aspects that drew us to DA.” The first grade has a year-long connection to the Ronald McDonald House. In addition to decorating the dining room and delivering donations around the holidays, first-graders create mini-Ronald McDonald Houses on Unity Day in September, which they use to collect soda pop tabs throughout the year. The house takes the tabs to a recycling center to raise funds to purchase the things that they need. Our class sorts and counts tab donations during math lessons throughout the year. So far, the students in our room alone have collected more than 5,000 pop tabs! Collecting small, shiny objects comes naturally to first-graders, but it’s not all fun and games. Students remember that their small contributions add up and earn money for the house. “We want to make them feel comfort so that they won’t be scared,” says first-grader Stella Edwards. “Since you’re caring about people, you don’t only help them, you help them get well,” adds classmate Janna Cloninger. Many students and families maintain their connection with the house long after first- grade. It is not unusual to see second-, third- and fourth-graders bringing pop tabs to their old first-grade classrooms. Older students’ donations arrive via inter-campus mail. Every donation is appreciated. Regardless of age, the Durham Academy connection to the Ronald McDonald House remains strong and benefits those on both the giving and the receiving end. First-grader Stewart Hall sums it up: “We feel better because we help them feel better by doing kindness to them.”



The Record (Winter 2014)  
The Record (Winter 2014)  

The Record is Durham Academy’s biannual magazine.