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Relay For Life teaches the freedom to feel

Tuesday 10 December, 2019

St Paul's grade six Relay For Life team

The St Paul’s grade six Relay For Life team are an impressive group of kids. They organise each fundraising activity, and earn every dollar raised.

“There are no adults in the team, apart from myself and another teacher, but just as supervisors because they’re underage,” says Maria, a grade six teacher at St Paul’s Anglican Grammar School.

Her colleague Fiona, a fellow grade six teacher at the school, leads the team alongside Maria each year. Both teachers’ grade six classes come together to take on the Relay For Life challenge.

Relay For Life is a community fundraising event for Cancer Council where teams raise money in the lead up to an overnight experience.

Maria speaks proudly of the 350 kids who have participated in the team over the years. 

“Before the grade fives come into grade six, the Relay is something they know they get to do, not have to do,” she said.

 “The grown-up approach of some of the kids never ceases to amaze me,” said Maria. “The ability for empathy that some of them have is huge.”

While she doesn’t shy away from praising the school kids, Maria’s encouragement and passion for helping those impacted by cancer has made the team into what it is today.

Maria and Suzy at the Latrobe Valley Relay For Life

Maria (left) and her best friend, Suzy (right) were first part of a Relay For Life team called ‘Bad Hair Day’.

Around 20 years ago, cancer suddenly entered Maria’s life. Her best friend Suzy was diagnosed with breast cancer which had already spread to her bones.

“She was the first person I knew who got cancer. She has since passed away, so that was a pretty major impact really,” Maria explained.

One of the ways Maria supported Suzy through her cancer journey was by joining her at the Latrobe Valley Relay For Life over a number of years.

Then in 2010, an opportunity arose for Suzy to visit Maria’s class and talk about her experience with cancer.

“They were so taken by her story and just wanted to help,” said Maria.

Some students from the first-ever St Paul's team

Some students walking the track at the first ever St Paul’s Anglican Grammar School Relay For Life in 2010.

That’s when the tradition started – the first grade six Relay For Life team was formed.

The St Paul’s school teacher says it’s an honour to chaperone the team at the Latrobe Valley Relay For Life each year.

“The first year I went after Suzy passed away, I found that really heavy, and the kids were so great – they all just got around and hugged me.

“I find it more of a privilege to be a part of the Relay now because these kids are so emotional and supportive of each other, and even to strangers. It’s something to see,” she said.

Maria shared a special moment with one of her students earlier this year during the candlelight ceremony– a special part of the event where Relayers remember loved ones lost to cancer.

“A student had attended a family member’s funeral two days prior to the event, and they had passed away from cancer.

“They were so stoic, but then cried when the ceremony was on, and everyone got around them,” she said.

“It was lovely to be able to share that space with that student, because they didn’t have to hold it anywhere; it’s okay to be emotional and you don’t have to be scared of being sad. It’s like a freedom to feel,” shared Maria.

Maria with Sid the Seagull

Maria cuddling up to Sid the Seagull at a Relay For Life event.

Maria thinks Relay For Life is a fantastic teaching opportunity for kids to learn important values.

“When you have a year six curriculum, a lot of it’s about leadership, being a global citizen, being supportive, and all the attributes of a good leader.

“There’s such an opportunity for the students to be global citizens at Relay For Life and become really connected to their community, that it would almost seem a shame not to do it, because the teaching is real,” she said.

And the experience doesn’t just start and end at the event itself. In the lead up to it, the grade six classes organise Purple Day at St Paul’s – a day dedicated to unique fundraising ideas.

“The kids come up with a myriad of ways to make money, and they inevitably do. They think up things like throwing wet sponges at the teachers, so the teachers get involved – reluctantly!

Maria's grade six class

Maria has known students, and many student's parents, who've been diagnosed with cancer over the years.

Maria says the grade six kids are motivated by their determination to help build a cancer free future.

“They don’t think that people should have to suffer with this kind of thing. They just want a cure – that’s all.”

As for Maria, she Relays today to remember her best friend, but also to do something special for the grade six kids at St Paul’s each year.

“I hope Relay For Life helps them become good citizens of the world, and I hope it gives them some security in knowing there’s a whole support network of people when they need it,” she said.

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