A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Lexington STEAM’s pair of superheroes brighten holidays for young patients at children’s hospital


By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward

A pair of superheroes from the STEAM Academy swooped in to deliver good cheer at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, punctuating a classroom assignment with a colorful burst of generosity.

“Nobody wants to see their kid sad or suffering, and these kids are sick. My goal is to brighten up the hospital staff and families, too,” said sophomore Trace Williams, aka Spider-Man.

“The least we could do is make them smile so they can enjoy the holidays,” added classmate Nick Smith, who turned up as Batman.

After raising about $1,500 to buy more than 100 toys for young patients, the students made their way from room to room handing out teddy bears, board games, dolls, and soccer balls. Some youngsters immediately recognized the familiar costumed characters; others seemed a bit shy accepting their gifts.

“Hopefully they’ll smile and hug us,” Trace said earlier.

Nick Smith and Trace Williams, a pair of superheroes from the STEAM Academy swooped in to deliver good cheer at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, punctuating a classroom assignment with a colorful burst of generosity (Photo Provided)

Nick Smith and Trace Williams, a pair of superheroes from the STEAM Academy swooped in to deliver good cheer at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, punctuating a classroom assignment with a colorful burst of generosity (Photo Provided)

The boys’ effort was more than a community service project; it was for a grade in English III under teacher Kim Fisher. She had given her students free rein, spinning off the Google model of allowing employees time each week to investigate and research whatever interests them, and the class members came up with a variety of ideas.

One girl took photos around town and created a book about Lexington landmarks. Three boys studied up on recipes, bought their supplies, and made cooking videos. Some tried to start a nonprofit to help people with mental illnesses, but didn’t get as far as they would have liked.

“One of the things they reflected on was that people don’t call you back. A lot of times they were at a standstill because they were waiting, but it was a good learning experience,” Fisher said.

Meanwhile, classmates created instructional videos on how to take a computer apart and put it back together, while others developed a STEAM promotional video and went out to speak to middle schoolers.

“Trace and Nick decided they wanted to take presents and bring joy for a day,” the teacher recalled.

The school project challenged the students to apply their academic and interpersonal skills in a real-world scenario. For instance, one writing component was the initial proposal for Fisher.

“Each week, we also did blogs where they reported back individually on what they did, what roadblocks they ran into, and how they problem-solved. They also had to write about their upcoming plans,” she said.

The boys covered the listening and speaking components in pitching their ideas to classmates, contacting sources, and making connections in the community.

Trace, who is interested in a career in medicine, focused on bringing positive energy into the hospital. The duo’s proposal included the perceived need, a timeline, and their goal. In an early step, he and Nick interviewed fellow students about their favorite toys from childhood.

After raising about $1,500 to buy more than 100 toys for young patients, the students made their way from room to room handing out teddy bears, board games, dolls, and soccer balls (Photo Provided)

After raising about $1,500 to buy more than 100 toys for young patients, the students made their way from room to room handing out teddy bears, board games, dolls, and soccer balls (Photo Provided)

“We knew there would be boys and girls in the hospital and kids of a variety of ages,” Trace said. They also reached out to University of Kentucky staff to ask about specific needs. “It taught us communication (skills) as we had to write emails and conduct business calls. It taught us how to be more creative and innovative,” he said.

The students did run into some red tape, but learned how to be professional on the phone.

“It’s definitely more difficult than you’d imagine. I can understand why because it’s really important to protect these kids and their families, but it’s really complex. This teaches you to be prepared and to know what you’re doing. You just have to try,” Trace said.

“You can’t just walk in,” Nick noted. “You have to set up the date and fill out a lot of paperwork to get permission. It taught us to be mature and be very detailed – not going halfway but giving it your all.”

When donations began to come in locally, the students spread the word via Twitter and set up a GoFundMe page as Trace’s grandfather promoted their efforts across Eastern Kentucky.

“A big part of STEAM is trying to contribute to the community. You don’t know if these things will come together, and when they told me they had gotten $1,500, it blew me away,” Fisher said. “I haven’t seen kids so excited about projects before. It was neat to see.”

Nick also thought his teaming up with Trace turned out well.

“We really didn’t think it would be as big as it was, but everybody in the school wanted a part of what we were doing,” he said. “First we were only going to get toys, and then we decided to dress up as superheroes. We felt like that would make it over the top.”

Tammy L. Lane is website editor for Fayette County Public Schools.


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