BELMONT - Students at Pleasants County Middle School showed their support for an ailing classmate on Friday by shaving their heads to show solidarity and raise money for his family at the same time.
Art teacher Mindy Bussey said 17 students - and herself - came to school on Friday with shaved heads in support of James Burgess, a sixth-grader with a rare form of pediatric cancer called primitive neuroectodermal embriogenic tumor, or PNET.
The main part of the fundraising was a "penny war" held by the students between Monday and Friday to raise money to help the Burgess family with medical expenses.
A teacher and 17 students at Pleasants County Middle School shaved their heads Friday in support of an ailing classmate, while raising money to help his family. Those pictured include art teacher Mindy Bussey and students Devin Dalrymple, Shaina Baker, Dalton Houser, Karson Schneider, Jacob Northrop, Corbin Bussey, Spencer Wren, Jeremy Smith, Kevin Holland, Cameron Frame, Trayven Henderson, Trentyn Kelley, Jaiden Smith, Tucker Dalrymple, Jacob Schrebe, Owen Dornon and Issac Hackathorn. (Photo Provided)
In the "penny war," the students were divided into 16 home bases, with each having a jar to collect pennies. The goal was to collect the most pennies, and any cash collected that was not a penny was deducted from the sum of pennies when deciding a winner. Teams could "sabotage" other teams - but help the overall fundraising goal - by dropping nickels, dimes, quarters or dollar bills into competitors' jars.
Bussey said students had been skyping with Burgess from the school library last Friday when they noticed he had lost his hair from the medical treatments. Devin Dalrymple, a seventh-grader, wanted to shave his head in support, and Bussey said she would donate money for every students who shaved, including herself. From there, the school's student council pledged to match Bussey's donations.
"We had $95 worth of shaved heads (Friday)," she said.
Dalrymple, the student who started the shaving movement, said he knew who Burgess was but they weren't friends when everything started. The class was skyping with Burgess last week when he saw that Burgess had lost his hair.
"I felt bad for him because he's having all of these troubles," Dalrymple said.
He wanted to make Burgess feel better so he decided to shave his own head and asked his friends to shave their heads as well. All of the students were able to show off their bare heads on Friday when they skyped Burgess again.
"He cried a little and told us he was happy," Dalrymple said of Burgess's reaction.
"I'm really happy, really happy with how many people shaved their heads for him," he said.
Through the various fundraising efforts of the past week, Bussey estimated nearly $2,300 had been raised for the Burgess family as of Friday.
Kristi Carpenter, the school's counselor, said the fundraiser in support of Burgess started as a part of the school's annual "Rachel's Challenge" program.
"Rachel's Challenge" is an anti-bullying program that emphasizes changing the school atmosphere by practicing kindness, compassion, inclusion and acceptance. Students are encouraged to start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion within their families, neighborhoods and community.
"This started with one student and expanded into a chain reaction of kindness and compassion," Carpenter said of the past week's events, especially among those who shaved their heads.
In addition to Bussey and Dalrymple, the other students who shaved their heads Friday included: Shaina Baker, Dalton Houser, Karson Schneider, Jacob Northrop, Corbin Bussey, Spencer Wren, Jeremy Smith, Kevin Holland, Cameron Frame, Trayven Henderson, Trentyn Kelley, Jaiden Smith, Tucker Dalrymple, Jacob Schrebe, Owen Dornon and Issac Hackathorn.
"It's been wonderful," Melinda Burgess, his mother, said Friday of the support of the students and teachers at PCMS. "It dumbfounds you, the love you find in the community."
The support of his friends and classmates has encouraged Burgess and improved his mood, Melinda Burgess said. He still has a lot ahead of him, including surgery in January or February, followed by nine months of chemo and radiation therapy.
Burgess has been out of class since October but is keeping up with his classes at home, she said. It is hoped he will be able to return to school next spring, but it may be next school year before he can return.