On Friday many students, as well as teachers and administrators across West Hartford, donated money to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and in exchange got to wear their pajamas for the day.
By Ronni Newton
Flannel and fleece, fuzzy slippers, and even a few terry bathrobes were the outfits du jour across West Hartford Public Schools Friday in support of “PJ Day for the Kids,” a fundraiser for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Hematology/Oncology Fund.
This is the organization’s sixth annual PJ Day, but the first year that West Hartford has participated with nearly every public school in town involved.
“I needed something to positive to focus on after the election, to eliminate the negativity,” said Laura Nichols, a math teacher at Hall High School who organized the townwide fundraiser.
She said she read something about PJ Day online and decided it would be the perfect thing to do at Hall. Nichols’ daughter goes to Bristow Middle School so she contacted them about the fundraiser, too. Soon Sedgwick and King Philip had signed on, and Nichols thought, “Why not? I emailed [Superintendent] Tom Moore and he said we could send it to all of the principals,” Nichols said.
Nichols said that Alanna Goldberg, a teacher at Charter Oak International Academy who is the mother of a pediatric cancer survivor, was instrumental in getting all of the elementary school principals on board.
“My son had surgery at Connecticut Children’s when he was six,” Nichols said, and after the procedure the only room for him was on the oncology floor. She saw what the kids on that floor were experiencing. “It’s really a special place that we now support whenever we can.”
Nichols has also gotten to know the Sullivan family, and knows what Connecticut Children’s Medical Center has done for their family. Kiley Sullivan, now a second grader at Duffy Elementary School, was diagnosed with the rare childhood cancer Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma just two weeks after her fifth birthday in April 2014 and has spent considerable time at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center receiving treatment. She is now in her 16th month of remission.
Kiley’s mom, Emily Sullivan, jumped in to help with PJ Day for the Kids and more than $1,400 was raised at Duffy alone. Emily and family friend Kyla Pokorny, 19, who has also been treated at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, even surprised Kiley on Friday and read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” to her class.
Allie Sullivan, Kiley’s older sister, helped organize PJ Day at Sedgwick Middle School where she is in sixth grade.
“It’s awesome that the entire West Hartford community and local surrounding communities are supporting such a great local program,” said Hall Principal Dan Zittoun. He said that holding the fundraiser at the elementary and middle schools, as well as the high schools, is a great way to connect everyone.
Hall sophomore Sydney Dood donated several dollars in order wear her pajamas because she thinks it’s important to support Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. She got a ride to school with her mom, but Hall senior Marie Cotter drove herself – and stopped at a local Dunkin’ Donuts dressed in her dog-patterned pajamas.
“They knew what was going on,” Marie said. “It’s a great cause. We’re children and we should support children as well.”
Hall senior Alexandra Papas was inspired to wear her pajamas by her younger sister, a King Philip Middle School student who has a classmate being treated for leukemia. When she hopped on the bus to ride to Hall Friday morning no one else was wearing their pjs and she was afraid her sister had tricked her about the date. She was glad to see other pajama-clad students when she got to Hall.
While not all of the Hall students wore pjs, there were plenty who did. One student said she walked to school in her pink and white hooded onesie pajamas. Senior Tanner Kriedel was dressed in one-piece dinosaur pajamas and said that was what he wore for PE. “I just put on my sneakers,” he said.
The Hall school store even sold blue plaid flannel pj pants embroidered with the Hall logo. A portion of proceeds from sale of the pants were donated to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
PJ Day for the Kids was a huge hit at the elementary schools, where nearly every student and most of the teachers and staff members participated. At Bugbee it was combined with a celebration of Human Rights Day.
First graders in Patricia Farquhar’s class were happy to be wearing their pajamas while creating their handprints as contributions to the peace and equality wreath.
“Each class, K through 5, does an activity to learn more about Human Rights Day, the rights and values we want to make sure we have,” said Curriculum Specialist Katie Feldman.
Bugbee Principal Kelly Brouse said it’s very special that West Hartford Public Schools have put such a concerted effort into celebrating Human Rights Day as well as holding the PJ Day fundraiser.
“My favorite part is the kids telling me how much money they’ve raised. There are not many reasons I’d wear pjs to school, but this is a good one and we’re all coming together as a town,” Brouse said.
Duffy Principal Kristi Laverty said participation at the school was close to 100 percent. “It was a student council and PTO partnership, and the student council went class to class,” she said, to make sure everyone knew about it.
Several Duffy families, including the Sullivans, have had experience with cancer treatment at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
“It’s awesome,” Kiley Sullivan said. She said she was so comfy wearing her pajamas to the school. “It makes me happy that we are doing that for the hospital,” Kiley said about the fundraiser.
“I got teary-eyed driving here, seeing everyone so supportive,” Emily Sullivan said.
“This is really a simple thing,” Nichols said, especially at Hall where the students took over and ran the fundraiser. It supports kids who live in their pajamas for days or weeks at a time while they are being treated at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and those kids are really are the heroes, she said.
Nichols didn’t have a final figure for how much was raised, but said she expected it was in the range of $7,000-$8,000 across the district.
“I’m so happy for our students, their families, and our faculty that we were able to do something so simple that could help so much,” Nichols said.
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