While the school is competing in the annual tree decorating contest sponsored by Holiday Tree and Trim, members of the school community have another motivation for trimming their tree: They are using the tree and its decorations to help remember Michael Romano, a student at Midtown until he passed away from cancer in October.
Although the project became a collaborative effort, the idea started bouncing around in the head of fourth grade teacher Elisha Mele when she was at home one night.
The boy's passing was still fresh in everybody's mind because he was someone who had refused to let the disease keep him from appreciating all that life had to offer.
"Even though he had been diagnosised with cancer since he was four-and-a-half-years-old, he didn't act sick," Mele recalled. "He always smiled and did his best when he was in class."
Mele kept thinking how lucky her own children were, and wanted to find a way to commemorate Michael's life. She started puttering around on the Internet where she soon learned the awful statistics that 45 kids a day are diagnosed with the same type of cancer from which Michael had died. That amounted to more than 8,000 kids per year. This number stunned her, and began to shape the need in her and others for a way to express just how terrible this was.
Back at school, she and the other teachers began to formulate a plan, a way to commemorate Michael by making an important point about the disease.
Michael, according to his mother, Sharon, had loved his fourth grade teachers, often speaking highly of Carla Aceti and Carolyn Delpiano.
The fourth grade was his best year, and when he had his best attendance, his teachers said.
"Michael was very sweet and always full of energy," said Aceti.
"He got along with everyone," Delpiano added.
So Mele, Delpiano and Aceti met with Leticia Sisk and Melissa Grillo, the other fourth grade teachers, and decided to dedicate the tree decoration effort to Michael and to highlight just how frequently the disease strikes young people.
They bounced around ideas and finally it hit them: What if the school could decorate its tree with snowflakes and on each snowflake would be the name of someone who had been diagnosed with the disease - those who had survived, those who were fighting it, and the heroes who had succumbed?
This required several initiatives to happen at once.
First, someone would have to make the snowflakes, and the teachers would need people to submit the names.
For the teachers, the snowflake was the perfect symbol they needed because in a world of cold and desolation, the beauty of the snowflake emerges as a sign of hope.
"We ran it by people throughout the school and everybody thought it was great, and the response has been overwhelming," Mele said.
Mele said the teachers obtained a snowflake pattern online and that students throughout the school began cutting them out.
"We're hoping to get 8,000 names to put on them," Mele said, noting that an early request from a cancer survivor Web site had brought several names to the school, one from as far away as New Zealand.
While 8,000 flakes would be a bit much for a single tree, the school will decorate the whole room that houses the tree with the snowflakes, but will leave the sixth grade students - those who were Michael's classmates - to decorate the tree itself.
The teachers agreed that this is an effort to show Michael's mother, Sharon, how much Michael meant to all of them and to somehow transform a tragedy into something positive.
"The Snow Tree project is both a beautiful memorial and a celebration of life in honor of our beloved Michael," said Christina Mercun, principal of Midtown Community School. "I am very proud of the MCS faculty, staff and students for joining with Holiday Tree and Trim and the community on this wonderful initiative. They are to be highly commended for this demonstration of love, caring and support."
Sharon Romano said when the teachers approached her she found the gesture "very touching."
"I feel Michael's spirit is alive through that tree," she said.
She said the tree also would serve to remind the public that pediatric cancer exists, and that many children suffer from cancer.
"Many people focus on adult cancer and don't realize that children can also get cancer," she said.
Contact Al Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org