SOUTHSIDE, AR (KAIT) – The annual homecoming dance always wraps up spirit week at Southside High School near Batesville, giving students a chance to dress up and show off their school pride.
The students, however, chose a theme this year that holds a special meaning.
Students in the school's Jobs for Arkansas Graduates (JAG) program chose "Wish Upon a Star" as the theme for the homecoming dance. Their wish is to make the world free of cancer, a disease that has hit their close-knit community hard.
Before students came back to school this year, they learned cancer had affected two of their teachers.
"The one that got diagnosed with cancer, she is one of the most favorite teachers on campus," said senior Alhana Davis. "She's really funny, sweet and smart.
"Then, the teacher's daughter that got diagnosed, she's barely over a year-old."
Students like Davis decided to keep these two families in mind when it came time to pick a theme.
"We all wanted to do something more and make it not about us anymore, make it about other people instead of us because it isn't about our hair this time or our makeup or how pretty we look," Davis said. "It's about them. It's about making sure we raise money to get a cure for cancer for them."
The students then decided to sell stars as decorations, with the proceeds going to cancer research.
"I think that this is a glimpse into the adults that we will one day see from this group of kids," said Novella Humphrey, the Southside curriculum coordinator, "that we have some outstanding leaders developing in the JAG program right now."
Students began to sell the stars this week for $2 apiece. The stars include a wish to someone either suffering from cancer or someone who has succumbed to the disease. The students will hang these around the Southside Middle School cafeteria during the dance Friday, and then they will give them away to the respective families mentioned on the stars.
"Typically teenagers get a bad 'rep,' and we know that the way they develop socially that the teen years are kind of the 'me' years," said Gia Taylor, a 10th grade English teacher, "but these kids when they see someone go through personal tragedy, they hurt for them.
"Even though some have not been personally affected [by cancer]," she added, "they still truly took to heart what their teacher and what other children in the community have gone through."
The two teachers that inspired the theme shied away from commenting on the students' effort, but those like Maigen Philips say they only wanted to give something back to the women who have taught them so much.
"I think if we didn't do anything else but to teach someone how to help someone," Philips said, "I think that will be a successful mission."
The students hope to raise at least $1,000 before the homecoming dance Friday.
They also built wishing wells to place at various sporting events so that people can contribute to cancer research year-round.