CHAZY — Kaleb LaBarge isn’t sure what his favorite Pokemon character is, but ask him what he thinks about his school, and he quickly gives a thumbs-up.
The 10-year-old’s mother, Kaela Jackson, is also giving Chazy Central Rural School praise for the support they’ve offered her son after a challenging diagnosis last fall.
Last October, scans found a tumor on the left lobe of Kaleb’s brain.
“You don’t know what scary is" until you hear that diagnosis, Jackson said.
For the next three months, Jackson stayed by her son’s side while he was treated in Burlington.
So when the day came in January that Kaleb was set to return to school, she was nervous.
“I’m a mother,” she said, with a laugh, “I had 152 reasons why he shouldn’t go.”
But the support CCRS has offered and the communication they’ve maintained have exceeded Jackson’s highest expectations.
“Everybody is on the same page, and everybody is rooting for him,” she said.
Through phone calls and text messages, Jackson keeps in touch with third-grade teacher Craig Duprey and school nurse Kim Gosselin.
“Without any questions asked, at any time, I can call them up,” she said.
Duprey said the communication lets the staff be prepared for any changes in Kaleb’s condition from day to day.
When the teacher was told that chemotherapy had weakened the boy’s appetite, he was quick to offer a solution.
“I said, ‘Pack whatever he likes.’ He has quite an array of snacks now, and when he wants to eat, whatever time of day it is, he eats,” he said.
When Kaleb lost hair because of the treatment, he was allowed to wear a hat during class time.
It's fine for him to come into school later when he's feeling too tired.
To prevent any infections, classroom surfaces are thoroughly washed at the end of every day, and Kaleb enjoys recess inside with a movie.
Jackson said the teachers for her 11-year-old son, Seth LaBarge, and 15-year-old stepson, Josh Clark, have also spoken with them to make sure they are doing OK.
Along with keeping staff updated on Kaleb’s condition, Jackson said, she appreciates the efforts made to keep his classmates informed.
Before Kaleb’s return, Student Advocate Chesney Penfield, school psychologist Lori Miller and Jackson herself gave the class age-appropriate explanations for Kaleb’s condition.
Duprey said he has been touched by the support and concern that his students have shown for Kaleb, never questioning the special exceptions made for him.
“Any day that Kaleb is not here, they need to know first thing in the morning: ‘Where is he? How is he doing?’” Duprey said.
Hanging on the walls of Kaleb’s bedroom are brightly colored get-well cards and letters sent by his classmates during his absences.
Word on Kaleb’s condition even reached up to the Junior High and High School, where the Friends of Rachel Club raised $220 for Kaleb’s family.
“It was a school-wide concern,” Elementary School Principal Rob McAuliffe said, praising Duprey’s efforts and the tight-knit school community.
Jackson also expressed gratitude to Amanda L. Bulris and the National Alliance on Mental Illness: Champlain Valley for organizing Christmas gifts for the family last year.
She thanked Kristi and James Moser and the Make-a-Wish Foundation for sending Kaleb on a trip to SeaWorld, Disney World and Legoland in Florida.
A community effort led by Chazy resident Linda Moore prepared a holiday meal for the family to enjoy after they returned home from Burlington last December.
The result of all of these efforts, Jackson and Duprey agreed, is giving Kaleb a sense of normalcy and the chance to have fun with friends and family.
“He’s been smiling, and I think that’s the biggest thing,” the teacher said.
Email Ben Rowe: email@example.com