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North Hills Monthly

Younger Generation Already Working on Improving the World

Oct 01, 2017 11:09AM ● By Vanessa Orr

Ross Elementary Dime Time trophy winners

It’s a hard concept for a lot of adults to grasp; that kids being raised today are going to be running the world tomorrow. That’s a lot of responsibility for future generations to hold, and you have to question whether they’ll be ready. While schools and parents can teach them many of the life lessons they need to know, other characteristics—like kindness and empathy— are often only gained through experience.

The good news is that many students in the North Hills are already way ahead when it comes to creating a better world. From a little girl running a lemonade stand to raise money for kids with Down syndrome, to whole schools coming together to collect funds for other students or local charities, to a middle schooler researching ways to diagnose aging diseases, there are some incredible members of the younger generation who are already making a difference. 

Callihan Dehart, first grade, 

Hance Elementary

After watching a TV show in which a character had a lemonade stand, Callihan, now a first-grader at Hance Elementary, decided that she wanted one of her own. Her mother, Kelly, agreed, but added that the money she raised needed to go to a good cause. 

“Callihan’s brother, Donovan, has Down syndrome, so she decided to raise money in honor of her brother who rocks an extra chromosome,” said Kelly DeHart, a teacher at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School. “We decided to hold it on an in-service day and emailed our friends to come visit. We thought she might get a couple of donations and have fun.”

Callihan had more than fun; in her first year, she raised close to $300 for the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh (DSAP). She decided to host the stand again this year, and raised $920 with the help of her mom, dad Marc, and Donovan, age 5-1/2, who greeted visitors. “Our 3-year-old son, Lochlan, participated by eating hot dogs,” laughed DeHart.

The money that Callihan raised will go toward helping DSAP provide resources to new parents, raise awareness in the community, and fund the Down Syndrome Center. 

“Our financial support of the Down Syndrome Center allows children and adults to visit the center for a full hour visit (or more) with one of the doctors specializing in Down syndrome,” explained DSAP board member Jeff Kulbago. “This allows the doctors to spend ample time with the individual and really develop a game plan for their current and future care. This type of center is very unique and is one of the best in the nation.”

“Every little bit makes a difference to the charity, and we are honored to be at the receiving end of donations like this,” added DSAP Executive Director Kelly Szejko. “It makes us feel fantastic to see kids doing things like this to contribute and raise awareness.”

In addition to her lemonade stand, Callihan and her family participate in the Down Syndrome Buddy Walk® and other events. 

McKnight Elementary School

It’s sometimes difficult for students in the North Hills to understand how lucky they are to have the many advantages they do. But a project at McKnight Elementary in the North Allegheny School District is helping children understand that not everyone has the same benefits, even in a school just a few miles away.

“Before I came here, I was the principal at Carnegie Elementary, where we partnered with Rotary and the Education Partnership to provide school supplies for students,” explained McKnight Elementary Assistant Principal Carla Hudson. “I thought that it would be a great project for the students here because it would give them an opportunity to give back, and to provide other students with the tools they needed to be successful.”

Each month, students contribute $1 to be involved in dress-up day, where they can come to school adorned in hats, superhero costumes or Disney apparel, depending on the theme. All 750 students participate in the fundraiser, which last year raised $3,300 for students at Carnegie Elementary. The money raised enables teachers to fill a shopping cart with school supplies from the Education Partnership’s warehouse twice a year, and also provides a $30 gift bag of school supplies to each student.

“While it’s great to give back to others, we wanted the kids to do more than that—we wanted to make sure that they could empathize with the other students and understand what it was like to not have the same advantages,” said McKnight Elementary Principal Dr. Christopher Shute.

To this end, each student was assigned to build a ‘house’ in art class, but not all of the supplies they needed were provided. “We wanted them to feel what it was like; to make that connection,” he added. “We asked them how it changed how they felt about school, and what they were able to do at school, and how it felt to still be held to the same standards. There were a lot of deep discussions.”

This year’s project will culminate in students packaging all of the materials for the Carnegie students’ gift bags, along with notes of encouragement. “While our students are very strong academically, we also want to instill in them kindness and empathy,” said Dr. Shute. “If you can do this with something as simple as school supplies, it’s a wonderful way to open the doors of possibility.” 

Hannah Shin, eighth grade, 

Marshall Middle School

When Hannah Shin was in elementary school, she volunteered with her church to go sing at a nursing home. “One lady kept asking me my name, and I didn’t understand why,” she said. “I was too young to understand what Alzheimer’s disease was, or to realize how terrible it could be.”

A few years later, when her brother led a volunteer group to another nursing home, Shin’s interest was piqued. “I became really interested in geriatrics, and the scientific study of health care for older people,” she explained. “I wanted to figure out how I could best help them from the standpoint of scientific research.”

Shin began researching the three main neurodegenerative diseases that most commonly affect seniors—Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntingdon’s disease—as well as how doctors approached their diagnosis. “What I determined was that there were a lot of unnecessary steps taken, and that none of the technology used was effective enough,” she said. “If we could find one or two effective methods to identify each disease, people would be able to be diagnosed earlier, receive treatment earlier, and avoid harmful side effects.”

Shin’s approach includes using neuroimaging to identify the distinct characteristics of each disease, using machine learning to better analyze the anatomical configurations that set them apart. She is also researching the biochemical approach to detect certain proteins, such as two spinal fluid proteins found in Parkinson’s, that can be significant in diagnosis. With this information, she hopes to code her own program that will effectively identify and diagnose each disease.

“Right now, I’m still in the research stage; I’ve read about 50 research papers over the summer,” said Shin. “Once I’ve got a program, I’ll contact different researchers to get their feedback—I’m still too young to work in a lab at this stage.

“My ultimate goal is to create a program that enables a quicker diagnosis so that patients can get treatment earlier,” she added. “Right now, we’re waiting to see symptoms, like memory loss or trouble walking, and by that time, it’s too late to give effective treatment. If we can diagnose patients before the disease has already progressed, it can greatly impact their lives.”

Ross Elementary School

When a group of students put their minds together, they can accomplish just about anything—including raising almost $18,000 for local charities.

The Ross Elementary School Student Council, under the direction of teacher Charles "Buzz" Gabos, spearheads the school’s fundraising efforts, which to date have helped numerous charities including Kids Walk for Diabetes, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, North Hills Community Outreach, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the American Heart Association, the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund and more.

“We want to help a lot of different groups; not just one,” said Gabos. “We like to be creative.”

The Student Council, led by President Colter Mathis, Vice President Royce Parham, Secretary Ella Demoise and Treasurer Mykela Conners, put together a number of fundraising events throughout the year, including “Teacher May I” Week, Dime Time, and various decorating contests.

“Some of the events are continued from previous years, and we also get together and come up with ideas,” said Demoise. “I like doing it because it feels good to help people.”

“We try to get classrooms to compete against each other, and whoever wins gets to do something special, like dress up or do a special class project,” said Parham. “My favorite is the turkey decorating contest, where everyone in school decorates a turkey, and we vote on which one we like best.” A trophy also rotates between classrooms, going to the winner of each competition.

Conner’s favorite competition is the snowman decorating contest, though she says she hasn’t taken home the title yet. “I like to do stuff like this, because it feels good to help other kids and people out,” she said.

The students hope to beat last year’s total of $17,759.26, which is a pretty lofty goal. “I think we might beat it; I really hope we can,” said Mathis. “That would be pretty great. 

“It’s good that everyone gets involved,” he added. “Because if we don’t, who will?”

ED NOTE: Do you have a good story about kids doing something great? Let us know so that we can include them in this ongoing feature.