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Morrison students make a difference for St. Jude
St. Jude-Brantlee Wright and Zaden Mullican.jpg
Photos provided Morrison Elementary School second-graders Brantlee Wright and Zaden Mullican both brought walking canes on Senior Citizen Day. The school participated in dress-up days for St. Jude Children’s Hospital this week.
St. Jude-Emmie Lou Smoot.jpg
Morrison Elementary School preschooler Emmie Lou Smoot went all out for Senior Citizen Day with a gray wig with rollers.

The St. Jude Math-a-thon is an event near and dear to Stephanie Bess, a mathematics educator at Morrison Elementary School. After losing a young student to the often-terminal disease, Bess decided to orchestrate a math-a-thon for the cause, an event that has held for over thirty years. 

“My first three years of teaching, I taught third grade,” stated Bess. Emotionally, the educator continued saying, “I had a little boy that had cancer, and I ended up losing him. He was in fifth grade.” With a heavy heart, Bess talked about this student being the start of her path to making a difference. 

“He actually had already been sick. He was diagnosed in kindergarten, but it was his first time actually getting to come to school when I had him in third grade.” He was one of two students battling cancer that year. Bess wound up receiving some information in the mail about the St. Jude Math-a-thon and started putting the event on through the school. 

“We did it for a long time in his name, and then one of the teachers that teaches with me had a cousin in St. Louis that failed her vision screening for kindergarten, and it turned out she had a tumor that was making her go blind. She had the option of either going to Cleveland Clinic or to go to St. Jude,” shared Bess. The choice was made to go to St. Jude and the family flew to Memphis and was given a place to stay. Bess hosted a math-a-thon in the child’s name that year, and several years after, and it took care of all of her bills. 

After becoming a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher, Bess incorporated the math-a-thon heavily into her classes, and the success of the math-a-thon has yet to cease. Bess held more events in the name of another student who was diagnosed with cancer in the second grade who overcame the illness and is now in high school. All of the plaques and awards received that year were given to the student. 

“We have several different names that we will host in memory of, and we just had a couple of losses that I plan on putting on the event in memory of. St. Jude was one of their favorite charities.” 

Bess even continued fighting for the cause during the COVID year, hosting a personal fundraiser in the interim. 

“Everybody who knows me knows it is very near and dear to my heart. As far as the math-a-thon part of it, I get with the other math teachers and the lower-grade teachers and I order the booklets from St. Jude for each of their students. They will have a little section where there are patients on the front with information about them. Each booklet has a different grade level, and they’ll have cartoons, and four or five pages of skills that correspond to that grade level. They fill out the booklet and get donations.”

Bess recalled one of her eighth-grade students asking her for a donation recently. “She asked, ‘Mrs. Bess will you donate some money to me for St. Jude?’ and I said ‘Sure!’ and she couldn’t believe I did that so I told her, ‘Well you asked me, didn’t you?’ I told her that’s all you have to do is ask people.” 

The school also hosts a week of school dress up days for the cause, and Bess stated that the students enjoy participating in it. “They love doing the dress-up days. It brings something fun for them to do, and we have been affected by so many students who have been diagnosed, so they get to see what a difference it makes.” 

On Monday, students participated in pajama day, on Tuesday they showed their Tennessee pride or participated in Elvis Presley Day, Wednesday was “anything but a backpack day,” Thursday was Senior Citizen Day and Friday was hat day.