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Dalton Fifth-Grader Embraces School Project to Aid Children's Hospital
By Rebecca Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
07:22AM / Sunday, November 24, 2019
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Kalen Spratt, 10, sits with some of the many donations he has already secured for Boston Children's Hospital as part of a school project.

DALTON, Mass. — When Kalen Spratt was just 18 months old, he had to have surgery at Boston Children's Hospital.

So now that he's a healthy 10-year-old at Craneville Elementary School, it's only natural that he chose Boston Children's as the recipient of a fundraising project sparked by a unique classroom assignment from his fifth-grade teacher, Teresa Bills.

"I was scared, but the doctors and nurses made me feel so much better," Kalen said in a letter his mother, Shana, helped him write and circulate seeking donations. "If you could find it in your heart to donate to me, I would be forever grateful."

For more than 15 years, Bills has been giving her fifth-graders $5 each. Her students are encouraged to take that money and turn it into more money for a good cause, doing research on the organization they choose and preparing a presentation about their choice.

"I want them to add to that five dollars," Bills said. "The $120 I give, they all turn it into thousands."

Over the years, students have given to many different causes and organizations, including places like Moments House and Berkshire County Kids Place. They raise money in all sorts of ways, she said, from doing chores around the house to selling cookies or bracelets they make. One student even sold pieces of duct tape to other students, who then got to stick all the tape to a wall of the school.

"Never done that before," Bills said with a laugh.

The effort that Kalen is putting into his project, though, has impressed her, she said — and taught her a lot about him, including the fact that he had to have surgery as a baby.

"Through these projects I find out a lot about my students and families," said Bills, who requires the students to present their projects to the school community as part of the admittedly "adult skills" she hopes they learn from this endeavor. "Every year we get tears in the audience. Sometimes they're happy tears. Sometimes they're sad tears."

Kalen, who said he wants to be a scientist when he grows up, is planning on doing a slide show presentation when he gets to share his project in December, Shana Spratt said. Until then, he is working hard to collect as many donations as he can for the hospital — earning money by helping his father and grandfather doing yard work and soliciting donations of toys, games and stuffed animals that he will deliver to the hospital himself in December. (Contact Spratt at shana.spratt@icloud.com if you would like to donate to the Kalen's project.)

"He's very humbled by the fact that the children can't go home for the holidays," Spratt said, adding that she had to have the hard conversation with him about the fact that some of the kids might not ever go home. "He's a very kind little boy. And this goes to show how kind he is. He's got a big heart."

Kalen's letter asking for donations clearly showed that heart: "I want to do my part and help raise money so the hospital can treat every child," he wrote. "So much money is needed for research as well. Cancer is an ugly disease and children don’t deserve to get sick, but unfortunately, they do, but hopefully with research a cure will be found."

His original goal was to turn the original $5 from Bills into $250, but he quickly hit that mark. Now, he has set a reach goal of $1,000 — which seems to be quite possible as his mom uses social media to spread the word, resulting in donations of money and toys from people she doesn't know and from businesses, and she doesn't know exactly how they heard about it. A lot of it comes from people with personal connections to Boston Children's Hospital itself, she said.

"My child had surgery there. My daughter goes there. Can I donate?" she said she has heard from people wanting to help Kalen's project.

And as the mother of a child who had surgery there, she understands that.

"It's the best place for such sad situations," she said. "The staff is amazing."

Bills said she finds her students amazing as every year new crop of students who enter her fifth-grade classroom embrace the project.

"Every year, they just amaze me with their creativity, their confidence and their ability to go out there and make a difference," she said. "It comes together as our best project of the year."

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