It was a day of illumination and inspiration at Clark Lane

Published May 30. 2019 6:15PM

By Mike DiMauro   Day staff writer

m.dimauro@theday.com   BCgenius

Waterford — The words of writer Hermann Hesse: “Whatever good or bad fortune may come our way, we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”

Turns out a whole bunch of kids at Clark Lane Middle School honored Hesse’s words last week, not only raising more than $20,000 for various local charities and programs, but combined the athletic, academic and social into a day of illumination and inspiration.

They called it a Walk-A-Thon. Third annual. But nary was a more conscious day ever spent by kids and adults alike. This was education in its most practical form, illustrating the hope and wonder that’s tethered to seeing beyond our own self-interests.

It began some years ago now with math teacher Jay Gionet, who turned a walk/fundraiser into a linear equation, using real-time data within a classroom — and later into a schoolwide activity.

“Back when we were kids, we learned about linear equations, y=mx+b,” Gionet said. “The y-intercept is the starting point. How much it increases by is your slope. Kids get pledges and donations. Before we start walking, we have a starting point. The goal is to walk eight miles, with pledges per mile.

“Math teachers write their equations in individual rooms and then it becomes a school equation,” he said. “Once the kids understand how the equation works, they can apply it to real life.”

The money raised, through pledges and donations, introduces students to a number of local programs, including: The Stephanie Turowski Scholarship Fund (a Waterford grad and teacher who died last school year); Big Red Memorial Fund (providing equipment and registration fees for kids to participate in sports); Safe Futures (helping people and families affected by domestic violence); Waterford Youth Services; Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation; Camp Rising Sun (for children fighting cancer); Heifer International (committed to ending world hunger and poverty); the VFW and Special Olympics/Unified Sports.

So many options … and yet this year, fate’s guiding hand turned the walk into a very personal calling for some members of the Clark Lane family.

Math teacher Kelly Barnes’ class underscored Einstein’s timeless line that “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous” by choosing the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation. Barnes’ mother, Sandy, also a volunteer at Clark Lane, was diagnosed with breast cancer the day after Christmas.

A word on Sandy: A retired 38-year year math teacher at West Side Middle in Groton. Volunteers in her daughter’s class now. Part-time bartender at Mr. G’s. Jeopardy expert. One of the region’s Everymoms, perpetually interested in others first.

Sandy Barnes is the best of this corner of the world.

“I was diagnosed the day after Christmas and all of a sudden, I’m in doctors’ offices and getting surgeries,” Sandy said during the walk last Friday at Clark Lane. “The first time I walked into the oncologist’s office, it was overwhelming. Every seat was full with someone in a different stage. It really hits you that you are not alone. The support I’ve had from family and friends tugs at your heartstrings. This is unbelievable. Kids becoming aware and wanting to do this is just amazing. I’ve seen the goodness of people come out.”

And from the peril of cancer came this wondrous day, many of the kids forgoing Lancer blue and red for pink. Kelly Barnes and history teacher Mark Higgins were the DJs/play-by-play announcers. Mark sang along to Rascal Flatts (“Life Is A Highway”), while Kelly’s voice was very likely heard singing as far away as the Aldi parking lot on Route 1.

Tremendous.

“A lot of times it’s the adults that do walks like this,” said Amy Caster, the Director of Outreach and Development for the Brodeur Foundation, who was also at Clark Lane last week. “But the only way organizations like this survive is if we get kids involved. We want to this to grow and cancer to be cured. If we can get kids involved at this age, it helps kids affected by cancer who may not know how to express their feelings. So many aspects. The learning piece, social piece and the support they get from each other. This makes my heart happy.”

Gionet said, “We’re planting the seed. We’re scattering them. We have 580 kids walking, but some will come back to walk with us again. Kids at the high school come back, ‘what do we have to do to help?’ Not every seed is going to grow, but some will.”

Turns out that Terri Brodeur attended Clark Lane, too, another layer in fate’s wisdom.

“I feel her presence when I walk the halls,” Gionet said. “I really do. The beauty of this project is that the kids truly get it when they’re done. We send them off to the high school with real math, connected to real stuff happening.”

Happily, Sandy Barnes reports she is cancer free at the moment, too.

“I’m being treated to keep it away,” she said. “But what the future holds, no one knows.”

True, true. But Sandy’s got our corner of the world in her corner, including a bunch of kids who are being taught all the right things at Clark Lane.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro