Special party thrown at Avant School

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

AVANT – It was Michael Hamilton’s special day April 12 at Avant School. Teachers, fellow students and community members combined to make him the center of attention, and convey to him their abiding love and concern. They love him and want him to get well.

Michael Hamilton is a 9-year-old in the fourth grade who is trying to overcome a rare form of cancer. He has brain tumors and is scheduled for a new treatment on April 25, which is his 10th birthday.

Mindy Englett, superintendent of Avant Public School, explained that Michael had wanted a Disney cruise for his entire family, but doctors decided that would not be possible. Instead, the Make-A-Wish Foundation option settled upon for the young man was an all-school party. The party was themed based on Michael’s favorite video game, Minecraft.

So last Wednesday afternoon at the Avant School was all about Minecraft, pizza and a special surprise for Michael at the end of the day – a golf cart that he could take home and use to navigate his way around the family’s 20-acre home place. Law officers and firefighters showed up to take part in a parade from the school to the Hamiltons’ home, with Michael driving the golf cart.

Michael Hamilton is the son of Jayson and Jennifer Hamilton. He is one of four children. His greatest desire, when he was stricken with cancer, was simply to return to school. He battled his way toward that goal, achieved it and then experienced a health setback that required emergency medical care.

Students at Avant School range from three-year-old preschoolers to eighth-graders. There are a little more than 70 pupils this school year. The school serves the town of Avant, which has a population of about 300 people, as well as the surrounding rural areas. The school’s sports teams are the Avant Chieftains.

“This is teaching our kids empathy,” Englett said regarding the effort to encourage Michael and the Hamilton family. “It really shows that your community can get behind your school.”

The superintendent explained the whole community is supportive of Michael Hamilton, but interest in his well-being goes beyond Avant. Englett noted that she has a friend from Broken Arrow who took time to visit Avant and help make decorations for Michael’s party.

Englett also said that St. Jude organization had provided specialized curriculum materials to help Avant School talk to its pupils about cancer.

“I’m very grateful for that,” Englett said. She mentioned that Michael’s fellow students have a special way of representing that he is in their thoughts even when he can’t be with them physically. They place a stuffed monkey in his seat in the classroom.

“This is my job,” Englett says of the task of helping the kids at Avant School successfully navigate the emotional challenges of having a friend with a rare illness. “We call ourselves the Chieftain family.”

Photo Caption: Michael Hamilton, left, and his mother, Jennifer Hamilton, are shown here at a party held April 12 at Avant School for Michael and his family and fellow students. The party was themed after the Minecraft video game, which Michael loves. The children enjoyed pizza.