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Support systems: J.W. Smith holds Survivor Lap, Relay Recess for Relay for Life

BEMIDJI--The first Relay for Life at J.W. Smith Elementary School was intended to be a memorial for Abe Fagerstrom, a fourth-grader there who passed away in May 2011.

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Former JW Smith teacher Sally Rodgers, left, and former JW nurse Terri Johnson greet students on Friday during the Relay for Life Survivor Lap at the school. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI-The first Relay for Life at J.W. Smith Elementary School was intended to be a memorial for Abe Fagerstrom, a fourth-grader there who passed away in May 2011.

Students and staff at the school's seventh-annual relay Friday were decked out in purple-Fagerstrom's favorite color-as they listened to cancer survivor and former J.W. Smith teacher Sally Rodgers talk about the importance of caregivers and a support system, such as, perhaps, Rodgers' dog Rubi. Students also cheered on cancer survivors as they made a Survivor Lap through the school, then competed in tugs of war, shoebox races and more in a "relay recess" afterward.

The annual relay aims to raise money for the American Cancer Society. This year, students at the K-3 school battled to see which classroom could collect the most loose change, and bought $1 strips of duct tape to tape their teachers to chairs. They raised more than $1,000, well ahead of their $800 goal, which meant that students on Friday could spray paint five staff members' heads purple.

Fagerstrom was diagnosed with cancer when he was 2-years-old, said Kelly Fagerstrom, his mother and a paraprofessional at the elementary school, and he went through cancer treatments throughout his time there. Fagerstrom and Teresa Colligan, who teaches second grade at J.W. Smith, said people at the school were a part of Abe and his family's support system.

"We could not have made it through," Fagerstrom said.

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"That's kind of what we talk to the kids about: being a support system. Doing kind things," Colligan said. "It's kind of all about being kind and helping others."

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JW Smith third grade teacher Brad Johnson takes part in the Relay Recess games on Friday at the school. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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