Make the sun shine on the longest day

18th June 2004 at 01:00
My son is dying and I need your help. I never expected to write that sentence, let alone broadcast it in assembly, then repeat it in a national newspaper. But that's how things are, and that's why Ryton comprehensive on Tyneside has become the home of the Longest Day project.

If you are reading this on the day of publication, I will be involved in the most challenging day of my life. At the centre of the Longest Day project is a 24-hour fundraising "teach-in", running from 7am today until 7am tomorrow. If you are reading this after that, I'm asleep.

When I wake up, my four-year-old son, Sam, will still have Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), no matter how much money I can pass to medical researchers on June 21. DMD is a fatal muscle wasting disease. Boys are in a wheelchair from around age eight, with a life expectancy "into early adulthood". I am an English teacher. I know about euphemism. That means Sam is dying, and I need your help. I'm beginning to repeat myself. I'm an English teacher. I know about rhetoric. More than 40 other schools are doing things to help. Is yours one of them?

In November 2002, my wife and I were given the news about Sam, the middle of our three boys. But we were also told that scientists, including those based at the Centre For Life in Newcastle, believe a life-saving therapy could be three to five years away. A cure could be found in the next decade.

Since then a year has passed, and it's time for action. The Longest Day project now involves footballer Peter Beardsley, Olympic athlete Jonathan Edwards, rugby player Rob Andrew, Alan Milburn MP, Simon Donald of Viz fame, Byker Grove's Daymon Britten and a host of other names.

A series of "lessons" will allow pupils to hear what Mr Milburn, the former Health Secretary, thinks about funding medical research, before they join Peter Beardsley to hear what the experts think of Euro 2004. There's a science assembly with Professor Kate Bushby from The Centre For Life (plus Jonathan Edwards by video link). Then there's an audience with Rob Andrew, complete with World Cup final scream and the Powergen Cup. Add costumed karaoke, the potty guy who put the Shearer shirt on the Angel of the North, and an auction, and you have it. All in a Longest Day's work.

If nothing else the project has reminded me why we do what we do. Schools are communities. Every class we teach includes young people who face personal hardship. The pupils' response has reminded me just what a rewarding job teaching is. People want to help, and we, as teachers, want to help people. It's instinctive. We must not forget that pupils learn many things at school; only some of them are measurable.

To measure how much we've raised for Sam, log on to:

Danny Smith

Danny Smith is a teacher at Ryton comprehensive, Gateshead

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