HALEYVILLE - Haleyville City Schools, along with the entire community, is wrapping their loving arms and hearts around the struggles of 10-year-old Maddie Bishop--who found out in early April that she is battling stage 4 Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer that has spread into her lungs.
After Bishop, a fifth grade student at Haleyville Elementary, was given the diagnosis of stage 4 cancer with metastasis, she returned to school being met by caring and compassionate students and staff who did not treat her any differently, but showed her kindness and compassion.
After the school nurse received Maddie’s preliminary results, staff and students went immediately to work preparing Maddie’s classmates before her return to school April 2. School counselor Meagan Vickery and social worker Jessica Riddle met in an assembly with fifth grade students.
“We decided to be honest in a kid-friendly way to explain the diagnosis,” Vickery said.
“It is best to be honest with the kids,” Riddle added. “They need to fully understand what the future looks like for their friend. When they hear something like this, they become fearful and scared,” Riddle added.
Before Maddie’s diagnosis, Riddle spent time explaining to students how to place themselves in someone else’s situation and see things from their point of view.
“Their friend is going through something. We need to try to understand that it is going to be a hard road for her. We need to all just be there for her,” continued Riddle. “Love her more now than we ever have and just be a good friend.”
On April 2, Maddie came to the school’s Easter party on crutches, joining in activities with her friends and classmates, finding a warm reception instead of an odd situation.
“It warms my heart to see them interact with Maddie,” Vickery added.
Maddie’s homeroom class gave her a Love You Lots Care Bear. Maddie’s family later sentMaddie’s homeroom teacher, Shanda Barnett, a picture of Maddie hugging the bear.
Vickery noted that kids are very resilient, being able to adapt more easily to changing situations.
“They just need to be educated on it,” she said.
Interim elementary principal Tammy Hatton commended Vickery and Riddle on their handling of the situation.
This past week, Maddie had a port installed in order to receive her first chemotherapy treatment, along with a bone biopsy, school officials said.
“There are a lot of things you can control, and a lot of things you cannot control,” Hatton said. “This is one of those situations that is uncontrollable by us. How we react to the situation is what is going to be the greatest impact.”
Maddie, a straight A student, is very concerned about how her grades will be affected by missing school due to her treatments.
“We want this to be as normal as possible for her,” Hatton stressed, adding Maddie will be helped with her assignments.
“We want the days she attends with us to be as normal as possible because that is what she wants,” Hatton said.
Fifth grade teachers are not only wearing matching T-shirts, but caps with special logos in Maddie’s honor. Maddie’s class also made special cards for her. Barnett recorded an inspiring video of students giving Maddie heartwarming messages and making their cards.
“We want her to know we’ve got her in our hands and we’re going through it with her,” said Barnett. “We just want to try to lift her up and get her away from feeling sad and alone. We want her to know her friends are here for her.”
Fifth grade student Anna Lauren Hicks noted, “(Maddie) needs her friends.”
Fellow classmate Lydia Goins added, “She is very important. We love her.”
Student Payden Trallo added it was important for students to act normal and talk with Maddie as they would on a normal school day.
“Stay strong and stay positive,” added student Caroline Hooker.
A parade is being planned in Maddie’s honor at the elementary school for May, according to Hatton.
Maddie will be named honorary cheerleader at the spring football game, with all proceeds from the game going to the family.
The softball team is planning a Strike Out for Cancer game with T-shirts for sale, also raising proceeds for the family.
“We are community strong every day,” Hatton pointed out. “But when situations out of our control come into play, we become stronger. We rally together. We pull together as a team and do what we have to do to make the situation much more bearable to the best of our ability.”
HCS Superintendent Dr. Holly Sutherland said it is not surprising that the school and community are rallying around one of their own.
“For us to be able to give back andshow support at a time that’s hard is very important for us, just to let them know that we are here for them and we are supporting them,” Sutherland pointed out.
Haleyville Board of Education President Donna Jones, who is also a retired elementary teacher, added, “As long as I have been here, our community and our school system have formed a circle around whoever is struggling with a situation. We have formed our circle to support them. We all have faith in God, and we pray for them every day. We don’t take this lightly. We all stick together through it.”
“Our prayers and our thoughts are definitely with Maddie and her family,” said Middle School Principal Bo Wilcoxson.
To raise funds to help the Bishop family, both the middle school and high school are asking students to pay $50 to be able to wear a hat to school for the remainder of the year or pay $1 a day to wear a hat. Students can also pay any amount in a donation toward the cause.
At the middle school, media specialist Pam Mobley has colorful posters that are available for purchase for $1 each.
“We’re going to donate all the money we make from those posters to helping Maddie,” Wilcoxson said. “We are very pleased with the donations and the outpouring of love for her from our school.
“If you don’t want to wear a hat, but want to donate money, that’s fine,” Wilcoxson added. “We’re taking up money first period every day.”
High School Principal Davey Reed noted the fundraiser of wearing a hat for the remainder of the year for $50 up front or $1 a day is being themed in name recognition of Maddie’s sister, Hannah, who is a varsity cheerleader in the senior class. The theme for the high school fundraiser is Hats for Hannah’s Sister.
“The students there (at the high school) understand who it is,” Reed explained.
“To know Maddie is to love her,” Hannah posted on social media. “If you have ever spoken to Maddie, you would know how sweet and how big her heart is. Please pray for her healing.”
“High school students, especially boys, like to wear hats,” Reed stated.
“They are all close knit, and they feel for (Maddie) and her sister and family,” Reed said. “We have a goal we’re trying to reach, and we have some groups that want to match that money.”
Not only the school, but the entire community is coming together to help the Bishop family during this difficult time.
“We’re participating in helping any way we can to do any type of fundraiser or benefit,” stated Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri.
Special mention was made for the Bishop family, including parents John and Helena, Maddie and Hannah, at the April 5 city council meeting.
Also, a motorcycle ride, called Ride for Maddie is scheduled for Saturday, May 22, with line-up in front of Lakeland Community Hospital in Haleyville and ending at the Natchez Trace Harley Davidson.
A Swamp John’s dinner fundraiser is being planned for June 30, school officials said.
A ride through town on behalf of Maddie is being sponsored by Hampton Inn, with a date not yet announced.
Arm bands reading Maddie Strong will be sold in May by the elementary student council for $3 each, with proceeds going to help the Bishop family.
Maddie has been active in community sports, playing on the travel volleyball team, as well as playing basketball for Haleyville Parks and Recreation.
“She supports others and has a strong faith,” said Hatton.
Elementary Assistant Principal Emily Johnson has coached Maddie in travel volleyball. She describes Maddie as sweet and kindhearted.
“Maddie is always willing to do anything you ask of her in the classroom or in volleyball practice. She is just a great all-around kid,” Johnson said.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.