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From the heart: School mobilizes to help teacher with MS

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Frank Schultz
April 27, 2013

— Teacher Linda Madarik recently told second-graders at Harrison Elementary School that she has multiple sclerosis.

Is there a cure? they asked.

"I said no.

"Looking at 46 sets of eyes, that was hard," Madarik said this week. "That was like telling my own kids. You're with them every day, and you love them like your own."

Madarik assured them MS isn't contagious. They asked if her medication tastes good.

"I wish," she said.

Her meds come through a needle.

But this can be a positive thing, too, Madarik told the kids, because they can help. And they are. They're not only helping, but they're having fun doing it.

The help started with Harrison staff, who learned about Madarik's condition earlier this year. Staff members organized a team to walk in the upcoming Walk MS in Janesville.

Fifth-grader Sam Sarauer's parents both work at Harrison, so he found out.

"I was really scared about it," said Sam, who had Madarik for second grade. "I was glad she's still coming to school and that we're doing something about it."

As a member of the school's student council, Sam suggested an MS fundraiser as the council's annual community service project.

The council sold pinups, which are paper disks that students bought for $1 apiece. Each disk could be used to vote for songs Harrison teacher and musician Chris Kohn will perform for the students Thursday.

The students set a goal of $500. They raised more than $1,100.

"It's crazy how much we raised. The kids are so good here," said student council member and fifth-grader Emily Klein.

The students' top choice is a kiddie song called "Tooty Ta."

"Tooty-Ta" comes with a set of less-than dignified dance moves that every student seems to know. Harrison Principal Jessica Grandt-Turke suggested the song's popularity comes from the students' glee at the prospect of a teacher performing the dance.

Madarik, once named teacher of the year in the school district, has taught off and on for 17 years—the last seven in second grade at Harrison.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spine. Madarik appears in good health, and she continues to teach. She has a relatively mild form of MS called relapse/remitting.

She says lots of people are diagnosed with much worse illnesses every day.

"You see all this bad stuff happening, but good stuff gets attention, too, and that's what makes the world go on," Madarik said.

Madarik was diagnosed by accident. She went to the doctor with a bad cold. She also had fallen, so the doctor ordered an MRI.

The scan revealed old lesions in her brain. She apparently had the disease for some time.

Further tests confirmed the diagnosis last July.

Madarik believes a positive attitude will help her battle the disease, and one of the things in her life that keeps her positive is coming to school every day.

She loves teaching and loves her students, and they return that feeling.

"It's great that we're doing something for our school, for her," said Zoe Williams, a fourth-grader, who, like Emily and Sam, had Madarik for second grade.

Madarik said that's the kind of thinking she wants to instill in her students.

You can teach all the skills and knowledge, but if you don't know how to reach out and touch others, to make a difference, that's not education, Madarik believes.

"You educate their mind and their heart," she said. "That's what makes it a school."



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