When it comes to being in the know about sun safety, Lake Elementary School students have it “made in the shade.”
Just in time for summer, the students got a lesson in how to stay safe in the sun during a recent visit from Cindy Pickett, a registered nurse and co-founder of the Safe in the Shade Foundation.
Pickett and friend Eleanor Riffle started the foundation in 2009 with the goal of promoting skin cancer awareness, with an emphasis on prevention and early detection.
They were women on a mission – to try to spare others the heartache they went through in 2005 when Cindy’s son (and Eleanor’s son-in-law) Micah was diagnosed with metastatic malignant melanoma at the age of 23.
“He underwent chemotherapy for more than a year. No mom ever wants to see her child go through that,” Pickett said. “I didn’t know where to turn, what to do.” Throughout Micah’s treatment, the women relied on each other for comfort and support.
Annual Safe in the Shade walk/run events held at Maumee Bay State Park put sun safety in the spotlight and also raised funds for the non-profit foundation, with the goal of supporting skin cancer research and purchasing protective sun shades for local school playgrounds.
Pickett, who now lives in North Carolina, recently made the trip back to the area not only to talk to the students about how to be sun-smart, but also to tell them that the foundation would be purchasing and installing a shade covering for the school playground.
“We chose Lake as the first school to get a shade from the foundation, not only because Micah and his wife went here, but also because when Micah was going through chemo and other treatments, Eleanor organized a benefit to help with his medical expenses, and the Lake community came out in overwhelming support for him,” Pickett said.
The sun shade, which will cost between $10,000 and $13,000 will be installed this summer.
“We’re humbled to be the first school they chose to get the sun shade – especially because it’s being given in honor of alumni,” Lake Elementary Principal Christie McPherson said. “Currently, the playground has absolutely no trees or shade covering whatsoever; we’re going to purchase picnic tables to put under there as well, so it will give the kids a nice place to go to cool off and get a reprieve from the sun.”
“On average, our children spend 20 minutes a day, five days a week during the school year in the sun – which totals about 60 hours during the average school year,” Pickett said.
“Most kids don’t wear sunscreen on a daily basis,” she said. “Just a few serious sunburns can increase a child's risk of skin cancer later in life.
“People might be surprised to know there are more than one million skin cancers diagnosed each year in the U.S. – that’s more than cancers of the breast, colon, uterus, ovaries and pancreas combined – and that’s from the American Cancer Society,” Pickett said.
In conjunction with Pickett’s visit and in observance of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, the students had the opportunity to participate in a fundraiser to help the Safe in the Shade Foundation’s sun shade program by contributing $1 or whatever they could afford to be able to wear a hat or sunglasses to school. “The fundraising is not only fun for the students, but also helps them feel involved with helping to get the shade for their school,” McPherson said.
The students also participated in a poster contest, which challenged them to come up with their own creative way to spread the word about sun safety.
Over two days, Pickett addressed each classroom in the school. She often opened the 10-15 minute presentation by asking how many of them had ever had a sunburn and was not surprised when many raised their hands.
Engaging the students with props like and umbrella and floppy hat, she discussed ways to avoid the painful burns and help prevent skin cancer, including wearing sunscreen, protecting eyes with sunglasses; wearing sun-protective clothing and hats and seeking out shade on sunny days.
“When using sunscreen, don’t forget your ears, the back of your neck and even the part in your hair,” Pickett told the students. “And remember to reapply every 1-1/2 to two hours.”
“This has been the ultimate goal of our foundation – to teach our children sun safety and to provide shade covering,” Pickett said.
“Little did I know when we started Safe in the Shade how the passion would grow for me and for Eleanor, too,” she said. She feels blessed that Micah is doing well today. Her mother has also battled melanoma and last December, she lost her husband to the deadly form of skin cancer.
“My husband, who was fair skinned, was raised in California and had many bad burns throughout his life,” Pickett said. “He was diagnosed Sept. 11 and died Christmas Day.
“After we found out just how serious his condition was, he told me, ‘It’s so important that all children know the importance of being protected from the sun,’” Pickett said. “It just makes it all the more important to me.”
Cindy Pickett sun safety
In a recent visit to Lake Elementary, Cindy Pickett, of Safe in the Shade Foundation, demonstrates to students the importance of thorough application of sunscreen, including on the ears. (Press photo by Tammy Walro)
Safe in the shade photo
Lake Elementary fourth-grader Grace Jacob and kindergartner Eden Tipton won family memberships to Imagination Station Toledo in a poster contest sponsored by Safe in the Shade Foundation. (Submitted photo)