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Pajama Day fun benefits ill classmate
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Elle Johnson wears Hello Kitty PJs with dog slippers for “Caring for Cailen” day at Mount Vernon Exploratory School. Elle is a classmate of Cailen Rundles. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Many students at Mount Vernon Exploratory School enjoyed a special school day Wednesday, complete with comfy pajamas and an Italian ice. The best part? It was to help a fellow classmate.

Cailen Rundles, a third-grade student at Mount Vernon, was diagnosed almost a year ago with Chiari malformation syndrome, a neurological disorder where the brain descends out of the skull and into the spinal area, said Principal Connie Daniels.

“It’s an unusual diagnosis. He started having symptoms and they just got progressively worse,” she said. “He started out with headaches and then other (symptoms) started coming in, so they started taking him to specialists besides his pediatrician. ...They finally found a surgeon in Augusta that was willing to do the corrective surgery. It was difficult for them to find a willing surgeon. It’s a dangerous surgery, risky.”

Rundles is still at Children’s Hospital of Georgia in Augusta, where Daniels said he underwent surgery Tuesday and may face additional operations.

“(He’s) sweet, a very sweet student,” Daniels said. “Everybody loves him.”

When news of Rundles’ condition hit, plans to assist the family immediately began to form through the administration and Parent Teacher Organization, which then approached the school’s student council, a group of student representatives from third through fifth grades elected by their peers.

“At our meeting last month, they asked if the student council would like to sponsor some type of fundraiser to offset medical costs for Cailen’s family,” said Jordan Frobos, fourth-grade teacher representative and sponsor for the student council. “And they jumped right on board and brainstormed some ideas and thought about things that would probably raise the most money.”

The result was the plan to have students donate any amount of money in order to wear pajamas to school on Wednesday, with proceeds going to Rundles’ family for medical expenses.

“A lot of kids think that pajama day is really fun and the kids like doing it, so we wanted to have something that the kids like doing, but also doing it for a cause at the same time,” said 11-year old student council President Roman Yaskulka.

Vice President James Bennett, a fourth-grader, said the group had to be at school “really early” to help prepare for the event.

“It was really hard waking up. We all met in the media center and they told us what classrooms to go to and whenever a kid would walk by, we would take their money and give them a stamp and then they could go back to class (in pajamas). I think we raised a lot of money,” Bennett said.

Henry Grimsley, treasurer and a student in Rundles’ third-grade class, said they had brainstormed some other ideas for a fundraiser, such as “eating out on the pavilion or having a chewing gum day,” but pajamas won out in the end, adding he saw Angry Birds pajamas on some students.

The student council also worked together to create a title for the cause, eventually settling on “Caring for Cailen.”

“I think that there’s a realization that for the school community, that the school is another home and it’s another family, so when one of our own is in need, it doesn’t take much for us to kind of rally around,” said Funmi Oke, fifth-grade teacher representative and sponsor for the student council.

The student council, in partnership with parent volunteers and Bruster’s, sponsored an event to sell Italian blue ice to benefit Rundles’ family.

Gwen Hawn, PTO president and parent volunteer, said the number of orders surpassed expectations.

“We’ve had a great turnout and success as far as the parents and children and (those) that have sent in extra donations,” Hawn said. “Our wonderful parent volunteers helped deliver it to classrooms and lunchrooms. ... So throughout the day, the children are going to have it, thinking of Cailen ... while they’re wearing their pajamas. It’s an all-day event.”

Daniels added that she hoped to get some pictures of the day’s festivities and send them to Rundles’ mother, Emily Burnett, who is in Augusta with her son.

“His father and I are so grateful for everything that Mount Vernon staff, students and parents are doing for Cailen and us,” Burnett said. “We can’t thank them enough for everything. We are so grateful to live in such a loving and supportive community.”