Florida Keys News
Saturday, August 30, 2014
School turns out for ALS Challenge
Dozens rally to support a former teacher

For the staff and students of Sugarloaf School, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge currently sweeping the country is something they take personally.

One of their own, beloved former kindergarten teacher Janie Gard, is living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig's disease.

Accordingly, close to 100 pupils and staff members gathered by the school's famed metal shark sculpture at 3 p.m. Friday to take part in the challenge, which has gone viral over the past couple of months.

"Key Largo School challenged us to do it after Plantation Key School challenged them," Sugarloaf Principal Harry Russell said. "We've asked that each parent donate $1, and so far we're at about $400. We hope to raise between $500 and $1,000 before it's all over."

At a little after 3 p.m., participants dumped buckets and bowls of ice water on each other, providing a welcome relief to many from the summer heat. Some held pink-and-white letters spelling out JANIE GARD. The students charged with watering their principal apparently got ahead of themselves and gleefully dumped their buckets before the countdown finished.

A good time was had by all, including the several stragglers who missed the main event, but arrived to take part a few minutes later.

Fifth-grader Emily Bracher was all smiles following the challenge.

"I knew Miss Gard and I really love this school," Bracher said, when asked why she chose to participate.

Bracher said that she understood what the neurodegenerative disorder is, thanks to the awareness the challenge had raised.

"I saw it on the news," she said.

Parent volunteer Liz Cisneros also took part along with her daughter, Sierra, an 11th grader at Key West High School.

"Both Sierra and my son, Leif, had Miss Gard as a teacher in kindergarten, and I'm convinced that they're both doing as well as they are now in school thanks to her," Cisneros said. "She's a great teacher and a very caring person. Everyone here thinks the same thing."

Since the Ice Bucket Challenge first gained popularity in July, donations to ALS charities have soared.

According to the New York Times, the ALS Association received $41.8 million in donations from July 29 through Aug. 21, more than double what the organization had taken in during the previous year.

The challenge is not without its critics, however, who decry the exercise as everything from a waste of water to worse. Members of certain prolife groups have criticized the use of embryonic stem cells in ALS research.

The challenge has also been called a potential health hazard with at least one doctor suggesting that participating could induce a vagal response which might, for example, lead to unconsciousness in people taking blood pressure medications. A number of participants have sustained injuries, and at least one death has been linked to the challenge.

And in Campbellsville, Ky, last week, three firefighters were injured, one critically, after being struck by an arc of energy while trying to douse university students with ice water.

Experts have also warned against the potential for scams amid the fundraising.

Nationally, President Barack Obama was challenged to participate, but declined. He made a monetary donation to the cause instead.

For information on donating to ALS research, go to http://www.alsa.org.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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