SUQUAMISH — There was an important lesson taught at Suquamish Elementary School in March. No, it wasn’t cursive, reading or arithmetic, though those are important too.
It was a lesson about empathy.
In a schoolwide objective to focus on a different virtue each month, empathy was in recent focus. Suquamish Elementary students hosted a clothing drive called “Walk in their Shoes,” taking donations of gently worn pairs of shoes for others in need until April 21. (Donations will be delivered to North Kitsap Fishline at the end of the month.)
In addition, Suquamish second-grade students took their empathy lesson a bit further, directing their attention to a fellow second-grader in need.
Mykoa (Koko) Saffery, a second-grader at Richard Gordon Elementary School, was diagnosed with lymphoma just two days before his eighth birthday. He’s been enduring rounds of chemotherapy since.
When Rebecca Garrett, a family friend and Suquamish Elementary School teacher, heard of Koko’s struggle, she approached her school to help. In less than three weeks’ time, the school orchestrated a “Coins for Koko” drive, with proceeds from their wax museum event March 23 to benefit Koko and his family.
“I asked [my students] about a time when they felt really sick and what things could comfort them or make them feel better,” she said. “From there, we talked and they really identified. Even though they don’t know him, they wrote him cards and letters. They showed him that they cared. They feel like they know him now.”
Garrett’s class of 18 kids began collecting coins for Koko before their wax museum event. Just by emptying their own piggy banks into a jar in their class, they raised more than $500.
Sixty-six students in four second-grade classes participated in the wax museum event. Actors portraying historical characters such as Sitting Bull, Frida Kahlo, Walt Disney, Dr. Seuss, Amelia Earhart and Elvis came alive with a drop of a coin, sharing their stories and how they influenced the world.
Even Bob Marley was there, singing a snippet of “Three Little Birds.”
The one-night combined family reading and wax museum event raised almost $2,000 for Koko.
“There were so many people,” Garrett said. “Wall to wall, it was kind of hard to hear the kids. The community outreach was huge. The outpouring was so big. People from all different grade levels were putting in not just coins but bills.”
Koko and his mom, Angela Saffery, received photos and video from Suquamish Elementary’s wax museum event during Koko’s second round of chemotherapy last week at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.
Saffery said, the gesture from the community was unexpected, heart-warming and inspiring.
“It’s so heartfelt,” she said. “I can’t believe these little 7- and 8-year olds are doing this. They don’t even know Koko, but they’ve got such a big heart to help someone. We’re just amazed by all this love.”
Saffery said Koko, the middle of three children, played baseball and has plans to pursue golf. Before he got sick, he enjoyed cruising on a fishing boat with his grandfather.
“This was the last thing we expected,” she said. “Koko went in with stomach problems … But once it actually hits your family, you become so humble about everything.”
Saffery said the outreach from the community — especially from Koko’s peers — “really helps takes their minds off of a few things.”
“He laughed when we watched the video of Bob Marley sing,” Saffery said. “I think it means more to see the kids his age care. He feels like he has more friends and support, and that makes him really happy.”
Koko begins his third round of chemo next week. A scan is scheduled after he completes his third round, to gauge the success of the treatment. Meanwhile, Koko and his family are keeping a positive outlook.
“We’re hoping for the best and we’re trying to stay positive,” Saffery said. “Koko is such a positive kid, always has a smile on his face. We told him this is just a little hurdle you come across in life. He’ll fight through this. He’s a tough kid.”
While Koko focuses on recovery, Suquamish Elementary students in Garrett’s second-grade class continue to send their love through cards and pictures. Depending on Koko’s recovery process, both Garrett and Saffery hope to connect the kids before the school year is over.
“I think teaching empathy is such a huge thing to learn, especially at that age,” Saffery said. “These lessons set them up for life. This experience with Suquamish Elementary sets such a good example for Koko and inspires him. Thank you to everybody who has reached out. Our hearts are overflowing with love. It keeps us going.”
Garrett added, “The experience is something they’ll carry with them, connect to and remember forever.”
As Garrett reminisced on the class project over spring break, she said she likes to think the second-grade students not only got to learn about their history characters and how they influenced the world but also learned that, as young people, their owbn contributions can make the world a better place, too.
While the students move on to focus on other lessons like cursive, math and reading, the lesson of empathy will not soon be forgotten.
To make a donation for Koko, visit www.gofundme.com/pray-for-koko.