American Cancer Society volunteer Tammy Cobb talks to Hoosick Falls Central School sixth and seventh graders about different kinds of cancer  on Thursday.
American Cancer Society volunteer Tammy Cobb talks to Hoosick Falls Central School sixth and seventh graders about different kinds of cancer on Thursday. (Tom Momberg)

HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- Once a year, Hoosick Falls Central School chooses a topic to pinpoint for its wellness day. The theme this year correlates to recent deaths such as math teacher Isabel McGuire's lost battle with cancer in March.

"We chose cancer awareness, grief and loss," said wellness day organizer and health teacher Colleen Corcoran. "We also have kids who are ill, we have kids who have lost a parent and even have faculty members who have lost people."

Twenty-one different services took space in the school gymnasium on Thursday to allow students to visit during their lunch and study halls. In previous years, Corcoran and other teachers who are a part of the wellness committee have found services to focus on themes such as stress management, drinking and driving and healthy eating.

More than 600 junior/senior high school students found activities or information from area professionals between classes. The elementary school students went outside for a walk and talked with teachers about healthy eating for wellness day.

Other area schools put on similar programming with a wellness fair to bring in local professionals to talk about the importance of health and fitness. Individuals from Hoosick area services have given excellent feedback to Corcoran from past years.

"I've had people call to ask if they can come back," Corcoran said. "They've mentioned that they have never seen so many students that are so polite and students are always willing to ask me if I need help with set up or takedown.


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Among other groups, Corcoran brought in individuals from the American Cancer Society and grief counselors to address any student concerns with recent experiences of sickness or death. "I mentioned to the people who were brought in for (grief) counseling that they are going to have to talk about it because so many of the students are mixed up with their feelings," she said. "We have testing coming up and they may be a little overwhelmed."

Tammy Cobb, a volunteer with the New York cancer services program and the American Cancer Society said students have a lot of questions. She said she has had to dispel to them many myths about cancer.

"I was surprised that they knew as much as they did," Cobb said. "I've been letting kids know how to be healthy and what to do to prevent cancer."

Cobb said many kids have told her about family members who have been diagnosed with cancer, and didn't seem to understand what risks might be fatal or whether cancer was contagious. "They keep asking me, ‘can I catch it?' and I assure them absolutely not," she said between chuckles.

Father Tom Zelker of Immaculate Conception and Pastor Jonathan Youngmann of Community Alliance attended the day's event as active leaders in the Hoosick community. Youngmann said they know many of the children, and their presence reinforces their availability as grief counselors during a school year of sickness and loss.

Youngmann said that even if students don't approach them during the school day, that he hopes students might come seek them out privately. "If any of the kids felt comfortable enough to open up, that maybe they would come and talk to us about their loss. Our purpose and our presence here is really just to be a resource for the losses that the students have faced recently."

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg