How My Students Help Save Kids’ Lives By Doing Math Problems 

Kids helping kids—it’s a beautiful thing.

Sponsored By St. Jude Children's Research Hospital®
group of students outside for math and service-learning

Sometimes it takes a personal connection to a difficult issue that ultimately inspires people to become involved. For my co-teacher Paula Caldwell and I, that issue was cancer. We’ve both experienced painful cancer diagnoses in our families. Paula’s mother and father both lost their battles at an early age and my sister has had three grueling bouts (but continues to fight the hard fight). In addition, several children in our community have unfortunately been diagnosed with cancer.

Experiencing that feeling of pain and helplessness firsthand inspired us to want to make a difference for others and serve as an example for our students. Math and service-learning may be an unlikely combination, but when we heard that our students could help save kids’ lives by doing math problems, we decided to coordinate a St. Jude Math-A-Thon at our school.  

Save lives and improve math skills

The St. Jude Math-A-Thon ended up as the perfect fit for our school. Our students not only built math skills, but they also learned soft skills like empathy, compassion, and the importance of helping others. They learned that by working hard, they could help make sure that no St. Jude family ever receives an invoice for treatment, travel, housing or food—because all they should worry about is helping their child live.

Paula and I kicked off our Math-A-Thon with an assembly, where we shared our own personal stories. In addition, at our grade-level meetings, we shared this video of children and their families being treated at St. Jude. It really tugged at our students’ heartstrings, as many of them were familiar with these children. And of course, they were eager to know how they could help. 

Every student received a St. Jude Math-A-Thon Funbook. Each teacher in our school used the booklet, which was purposefully created to integrate into existing curriculums, to best meet the needs of their students. Some teachers completed the Funbook with the whole group, while others allowed students to pair up or work on the booklet as an enrichment activity. 

Student efforts blow our minds

The biggest challenge that concerned us when we embarked on the St. Jude Math-A-Thon was our community’s demographics. We live in a poverty-stricken area, and we wondered if that would limit our students raising funds. However, we’ve coordinated a Math-A-Thon for several years now, and it always works out with us ending our event at the $10,000 mark. It’s truly a testament to our students’ hard work and dedication to helping others in need.

The Math-A-Thon not only combines math and service-learning, it also empowers and motivates our students to make a difference in the world. There is a direct connection between their hard work and what their contributions provide for patients and their families. For example, $750 provides five days of oxygen for a St. Jude Patient. $1,000 covers about ⅔ of the cost of a one-day chemo treatment. $2,500 helps provide an ultrasound study. $5000 helps cover the cost of the daily room rate of the ICU. $7,500 helps provides nearly two months of Child Life Specialist services and $10,000 helps provide grocery gift cards for two years for one St. Jude Family. When our students see the total donations and how their hard work translates directly to helping patients, they feel proud of their accomplishments.

Make a real-world connection

One of our favorite parts of the experience takes place after the Math-A-Thon. Our school is in close proximity to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and we are able to take all students who participated on a field trip to the campus. The trip includes a tour of the St. Jude campus where we meet with representatives from the St. Jude staff. We also have the opportunity to meet with some families from our own community who are currently at the hospital. The students feel deeply moved when they see the good work being done as a result of their efforts. 

The experience of coordinating a St. Jude Math-A-Thon is rewarding on so many levels. We witness our students embrace math and service-learning, become empowered to make a difference in the world, and learn to persevere toward a goal. Paula and I are absolutely overjoyed beyond measure to be honored as the 2019 Math-A-Thon Coordinators of the Year.  

Want to host a Math-A-Thon at your school?

How My Students Help Save Kids' Lives By Doing Math Problems