Amy Selikoff, a seventh-grade civics teacher at Windy Ridge School, was faced with the life-altering diagnosis of Type 3A breast cancer in March. Since then, the school community has raised more than $8,000 on her behalf – and the giving continues.
Selikoff has a strong passion for her job and her students. Her impact on her seventh-grade students and well-appreciated teaching ability is apparent, with almost an entire school banding together to make sure she gets healthy.
“Everybody’s been so generous and so wonderful, and it’s kind of our tag line – ‘Cancer sucks but people have been awesome,’” Selikoff said. “I mean, I don’t want cancer. If I could not have cancer, like I would choose that. But I mean, there have been so many people coming out of the woodwork to love on us, to bless us.”
A fundraiser called Hope Loomers was created for Selikoff and put together by one of her students’ younger sister, Mia Patterson, who is in the fourth grade. She had the idea to create rubber-band bracelets to sell around the school. She enlisted many other students to help out with the initial goal of $300. The dedicated students ended up raising $1,045 for the beloved teacher. The supplies were donated by Patterson’s parents, and the proceeds were split between Selikoff and the school nurse, sick with a severe case of Lyme disease.
“If she raised $20, I would have been thrilled, and that was rather my expectation,” said Katia Patterson, Mia’s mother. “Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Mia had talked a group of classmates into making bracelets during recess and the inventory grew and grew and grew. She loomed before school, in the car, in front of the TV, before bedtime and everything in between. Apparently, her friends were doing the same.”
A second-grade teacher at Windy Ridge, Crissanne Sharp, arranged for her students to sell water bottles, snacks and Gatorade at the track before school at the Morning Mile, a program where kids can come to school early to walk around the track and accumulate miles. They also asked Patterson if they could sell loomed bracelets at the same time. They raised $1,000 for Selikoff.
“I helped with the sales at the track before school and became a familiar face in the morning,” Patterson said. “One day, just after packing up, a little girl ran up to me, breathless, a dollar bill wadded up in her fist. ‘Is it too late to help?’ She asked. ‘No it’s never too late,’ I replied.”
The child and her brother asked their dad for money to donate, but he said no.
“But then a little twinkle appeared in her eye, and she said, ‘but we found a dollar in my room, anyway!’ I gave her the pick of the litter. And that was the spirit that made this all possible.”
The entire Windy Ridge community has come together to help create something positive from a frightening situation. Numerous teachers, parents and so many students who have never even had Selikoff as a teacher are all looking for ways to contribute and make her feel loved.
“I have to give a shout out to the teachers because they allowed their students flexibility in their schedule to do these things,” Selikoff said. “Our doctors are like, ‘we haven’t seen support like this in general.’ It’s incredible. I’ll walk down the hallway, and there are pink shirts everywhere; they made Wednesdays where people wear those shirts. There’s this staff photo that we took, and there’s just a sea of pink.”
Selikoff is not only a teacher but also a roller-derby player, a world traveler, a public speaker and a lover of hospitality – always accepting new people into her home with her husband, Nathan. She carries enthusiasm to all aspects of her life, and even though she has been forced to change her daily activities, she says “nothing intimidates me now.” But coming from a woman who once rode her bike 1,000 miles across the country, it doesn’t seem like she was ever easily intimidated.
The fundraiser that kicked off the enormous amount of giving within the community was started by Selikoff’s roller-derby league, Orlando Psycho City Derby Girls, on gofundme.com. She has kept a list of everyone who has donated on the site and tallied at least $3,000 from students and their families alone. The site has raised $17,960 in total so far.
A T-shirt campaign was also started to help support Selikoff by Windy Ridge’s assistant principal, Pam Crabb, whose husband owns a T-shirt print shop. They based the design off of Selikoff’s roller-derby name, Pirate-i-tude. The front says “Team Selikoff, Windy Ridge School” and has a breast cancer ribbon with a Jolly Roger skull on it, “an homage to something that I really love,” Selikoff said. The back of the shirt reads “Fight like a girl with Pirate-i-tude.” She estimated they gave her more than $2,000 from the sales.
Selikoff and her husband have received generous assistance from members of their church community, as well. They attend Grace Church, which meets at Conway Elementary School. Selikoff said the pastor’s wife began bringing them two to three meals every week and has been doing so for the past four months. If she is not able to bring a meal, she gives the family gift cards or Publix gift certificates.
“The thing is, for us, we are really fortunate to have so many communities around us,” Selikoff said. “We have the Windy Ridge community, so that’s 1,200 students and 200 staff, but that’s not really 1,400 people – it’s their families too.”
The community has provided what seem to be countless opportunities to give to Selikoff, and she continues to list them by saying, “there’s more.” On Fridays, Windy Ridge allowed the students to donate $1 to wear a hat or sunglasses. At track meets, parents donated food and drinks to sell and gave her all the money. A lot of the funds raised were given to her on her birthday, creating a very special day for the teacher.
“When I got to school that morning there was a picture of me when I was 12 – hundreds of them, everywhere, all over the school – and it said, ‘Hi my name is Mrs. Selikoff and it’s my birthday today,’” she said. “Even the eighth graders who
I had last year had their dance-celebration night, and they had some money left over, and they gave me that money. They could have spent it on a pizza party or something like that, but they gave it to me.”
Care packages have been sent along with stacks of gift cards and all the best chemo products, such as a neck pillow, fuzzy socks, a blanket, “queasy drops,” hats and more. Some of the most elaborate gifts received were from people she had never even met before, including numerous checks from anonymous gift-givers.
“It’s really honestly so humbling because you want to think that people are going to step up, and then when they do you’re just like, ‘whoa,’” she said. “Like the Tampa [Bay] Rays, they gave us nine free tickets behind home plate for my birthday. Just awesome stuff like that.”
Selikoff received the call from her doctor during her planning period at school, informing her that she has cancer. She confided in her friend Kim Hawkins, whose office is connected to her own.
“I went down and told the school secretary, and I was just kind of in shock,” Selikoff said. “They’re like, ‘do you want to take the day off?’ I said ‘absolutely not, no.’ So, I didn’t take the day off, and I kind of just went on in this Twilight Zone reality, you know, that we still find ourselves in. Still, I’m like, ‘I don’t have hair, that’s super weird.”
Even though it has been difficult, Selikoff manages to find humor in her situation and carries a positive attitude. She is currently going through chemotherapy treatments to shrink her tumor and will have surgery sometime in the fall. At that time, she will return to Windy Ridge for her 10th year to continue teaching seventh-grade civics.
Selikoff is used to a very active style of teaching, always on her feet and working hands-on with the students. Since March, she has completely changed her way of doing things in her classroom. Although she says she isn’t good at staying in one place, she and the students have both adapted very well. She created a group project for the last two weeks of school, allowing her to save her energy but still provide a meaningful experience for the students.
“Basically, for the past quarter and a half of school, I didn’t stand up for more than 15 minutes at a time; I took a lot more breaks,” Selikoff said. “And I think some of that is probably actually good for me just in terms of professional development because I stop talking and the kids get to interact with one another, which I think is a really valuable thing, as well.”
She said: “I believe in excellence. The way that you have excellence is personal accountability and high standards.”
She expects this not just from her students but also from herself, something that having cancer cannot take away. She continues to hold herself accountable and strives to give her students the best education possible, with her many friends in the community by her side.