Elementary students rally for classmates after fire

When the Cooper family lost everything in a May 20 house fire, they had to start over from scratch. Fortunately for them, their son Cortland Cooper was attending fifth grade at East Millsboro Elementary School, where his classmates stepped up to help.

Tanya Mock is just one of the teachers who discussed the fire with her students, who have some courses with Cooper.

“My class was just astonished,” said Mock. “It became a heart-to-heart conversation … and a life lesson, as well.”

It can be difficult to imagine losing all of one’s possessions, but Mock got the kids thinking about that reality. Suddenly, the children were suggesting what the family would need and who could bring what.

“I just try to get the kids to recognize how important it is to give to everybody else,” said Mock. “I think it’s just important to talk to them and let them understand what it’s like in the outside world.”

By the next day, Mock said, parents were calling the school and her classroom was filling up with donations, clothes, toiletries, baskets of food and piles of gift cards.

Cortland’s own teacher, Aline Dennis, as well as other teachers and other staff members at the school, also pitched in to help rebuild the family’s life.

“Overwhelmed is the only word that comes to mind,” said Cortland’s mother, Misty Cooper, who made multiple trips to the school to pick up everything that was donated. She said 75 percent of their house was lost, and everything that was not destroyed had suffered smoke and water damage.

She and her husband, Dean, also received generous contributions from their employers, neighbors, church, Milton Elementary School and the Sussex Consortium, where their younger son Chase is educated.

Cooper said she wishes she could thank every donor, but many of the gifts did not have names attached.

“Everything’s been amazing — helpful, that’s for sure,” said Cooper. “When I went in … I was crying my eyes out. They all stepped up. They’ve done an amazing job.”

“I am really glad to get the donation, because our house burned down,” Cortland Cooper said. “It’s really upsetting when you lose a part of your family.”

When the class discussion began, fifth-grader Matthew Warrington remembered Mock’s lessons from the beginning of the year.

“I couldn’t imagine if that was me,” said Warrington. If the situation were reversed, “I’m pretty sure he’d help me out a lot. It was just devastating.”

He took the project and ran with it, all the way to church the following Sunday. Warrington stood up at Hickory Hill United Methodist Church, explained the situation and asked if the congregation would donate to the Coopers.

“The response was wonderful,” said his mother, Carol Warrington. “They were impressed that he — a fifth grader, 11 years old, stood up in church. He collected a little over $400, plus some clothing.”

“We are very proud of Matthew [and] his empathy, which, as a school counselor, is one of the things I teach,” said Lisa Hunt. “The whole school really pulled together.”