Current and former students of Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington Township have banded together over the past few weeks to support the school's vice principal during her battle against ovarian cancer.
The vice principal, Toni-Marie Hals, is a member of IHA's class of 1989 and has been working in different positions at the school for 15 years. Hals, who is affectionately reffered to as "Dean Hals" since she was named director of students in 2001, has been an active member of the IHA community for years, working with the soccer team, student council and Students Against Drunk Driving.
Hals was initially diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and the school community has supported her in raising money for ovarian cancer awareness in the Revlon Run/Walk.
Over the past few weeks, Hals has been home resting, but that has only intensified the efforts of students who wanted to let Hals know they support her. The girls have organized groups to pray for Hals at the Catholic school's early morning masses each day. They have also held a "teal out" during the soccer team's game against Ramapo last weekend, at which the fans decked themselves out in teal and the players wore "W4D," meaning "win for Dean" on their wrists. Girls on both teams wore teal ribbons in their hair, and IHA did win the game.
"It's amazing, but it doesn't surprise me," Kelly Oberle-Tweed, the school's director of admissions and a friend of Hals, said about the girls' support. "It's a very tightknit community. They instinctively want to help whenever someone happens to a member of the community."
Jessie Lamb, a senior at IHA, has merged as an impromptu leader in the efforts to support Dean Hals. In addition to the large shows of support, Lamb and her fellow IHA seniors Emma Younghans and Ashley Agnello put together a video of students telling Hals about the impact she has had on their lives.
The girls got dozens of responses for their video, but what surprised them was how many of the school's alumni contacted them to participate in the video.
"I was shocked," Lamb said. "I talked to five people, and then they started sending my number around."
Lamb said she was inspired to organize the support for Hals because Hals was always involved in school events and activities.
"It's something she would have done," Lamb said. "To give that back to her, that was my motivation."
Oberle-Tweed said the girls' efforts were proof of the effect Hals has already had on her students.
"This is all kid-driven," Oberle-Tweed said. "There was not one adult who came up with these ideas. They came up with it all on their own. It shows that they're leaders, and they're capable of executing things."