“She always said ‘do well in school because it will take you far’,” he said. So Cordova-Pena happily signed off, he said, as long as he found transportation.
At the school, he has flourished, said his language arts teacher, Lynn Bryan. This year alone he’s taking four high school classes.
For the last three years, Bryan has been incorporating Breast Cancer Awareness month into her class s. She reads parts of Why I Hated Pink out loud, skipping parts she feels are inappropriate, and asks students to write memoirs. Bryan also had a personal stake: in 2001 her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and was successfully treated with radiation. In addition to the memoirs, students sign pledges vowing to remind loved ones to have mammograms, then wallpaper the cafeteria with them.
“In a weird way, it’s fun too. We laugh. It’s a bonding experience,” she said.
But when the class started the unit at the beginning of October this year, she was unaware Adreyan’s mother was sick. Once she found out, Bryan gave him the option of staying in class or leaving. And when it got rough, he excused himself. She also sent a copy of the book home to his mother.
“And then she gave me a pen and she sent it through him. We sent things back and forth through him,” Bryan said.
The Monday after his mother’s funeral, everyone kept a careful eye on Adreyan. Because Cordova-Pena texted him every morning to make sure he’d gotten off the school bus OK, Grimes made sure to text him.
“I was afraid that as bad as it was for me, because we always texted each other in the morning, that it would be worse for him.”
And when he returned to school Tuesday, Bryan made sure to keep things light, including him in the class’s final preparations for Breast Cancer Awareness month, and encouraging him to attach his mother’s picture to a banner that would hang in the cafeteria.
“When he walked in, I said I’m not going to hug and kiss him. I’m going to high-five him,” Bryan said. “I was not going to add to the sadness. I looked at him several times in class and he was laughing and I thought, touchdown.”
Giving him a choice, and a voice, Melchor-Beaupre said, “is an extremely important option for an adolescent in life.”
“It used to be that the most severe illness you would hear about in school was asthma. Now you know kids with diabetes. We have children with cancer actually undergoing chemotherapy and still in school,” she explained. “It’s not just the three R’s anymore. We’re addressing very important social issues and issues relevant to the world today.”
The approach prepares them for an inevitable reality, she said.
“Cancer puts a person in a situation where they have to muster up the courage and energy they didn’t have before,” she said. “He saw her literally engaging in that. It will definitely have an impact on his life, but he’s probably as resilient a kid as his mom was.”
And when asked what advice he would give to other kids in his position, Adreyan said he’d tell them to set a goal.
“You can ignore the fact that it’s happening, but sometimes that doesn’t work,” he said. “I know she’d want me to keep going in school. So that’s what I’d say. Set a goal. And I just have to fulfill that goal.”