It all started with a little boy named Brady Nussbaum. Brady was diagnosed with a neuroblastoma a little more than a month after his second birthday. His parents, through some friends, contacted Andy Dietrich, a co-owner of Champion Chevrolet, and salesman Cletis Greene, to ask for more passes to see the Speedway In Lights.
Dietrich and his wife, Hayley, couldn’t forget the request, or the harsh realities of Brady’s life at such a young age. Most of his days were spent away from home, in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, unable to play with other children, go out for an ice cream, or enjoy many other activities. What he wanted most was to see the Speedway in Lights in Bristol. When the BMS general manager, the late Jeff Byrd, was approached about the request, without hesitation, he granted permission for Brady and his family to not only visit the Speedway in Lights, but to visit anytime and as many times as he wanted.
Around that same time, Hayley Dietrich was still thinking about Brady and other children in similar situations. To be a child and not be able to have play dates, or attend story times, or interact with other children was simply unacceptable. She came up with an idea to establish a small school for children undergoing treatment for cancer and other serious illnesses. She called on her early childhood development training as a teacher and her volunteer work with McLeod Cancer Center during her college years. Hayley’s enthusiasm was contagious and friends and family gave their support. The idea came to fruition when Junior League of Kingsport adopted the fledging school as a new project and Bristol Motor Speedway offered the use of a suite for the classroom space. Fast forward four years ...
Children Exceeding Expectations (CEE) is a school full of play, laughter, random acts of kindness, a bit of education, and a spoonful of sugar to make all that sickness forgotten…
Classroom space and onsite support are provided by Bristol Motor Speedway and classes are held on Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. during the two sessions held each year.
Currently, CEE is one of only two such schools in the U.S. Children come from as far away as Kentucky to attend and physicians work their young patients’ treatment schedules to accommodate their participation whenever possible.
The school’s mission is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for pediatric oncology and hematology patients to grow socially, cognitively and physically through “theraplay” and to raise awareness of childhood cancer and immune deficiency disorders.
The school offers free education for up to 20 children, ages 3 to 12 years, exclusively for children fighting cancer or immune deficiency disorders. Students are accepted through physician referral or by direct referral from the medical oncology community - Niswonger Children’s Hospital, other area hospitals, area pediatric oncology practices, and the American Cancer Society. The service area includes any eligible child within the region. There are currently nine teachers, all of whom are volunteers with cleaning and maintenance of the classroom donated by BMS.
The classroom is a colorful and inviting setting in a safe and nurturing environment for pediatric oncology and hematology patients with the goal of providing a sense of normalcy in a child’s world where nothing is normal. Most of these children live in an isolated world, away from group activities, friends and school because the risk of infection from other children is too great: even the mildest cold can be life-threatening.
“In a safe and secure environment, we provide a sense of normalcy in the lives of these kids when they spend most of their time in a hospital battling cancer or other serious illness. That way, when treatments are over and they are in remission, they’ll be ready to transition back to ‘regular school’ without missing a beat,” says Hayley Dietrich.
During an “average” day, children receive developmentally-appropriate instruction and activities. Done in a Day projects are part of each class period for those children who, because of treatment schedules and sickness, cannot be there for each class. All activities are designed to give all students a sense of accomplishment. Hayley Dietrich and Jane Henry are proud to serve as teachers for this exceptional group.
Many others volunteer their time and talent as well. CEE is a big believer in “Random Acts of Kindness!”
“We provide a variety of large and small random acts of kindness for our students and their families (currently 42 people) throughout the year,” according to Hayley. “Love and support are critical to the healing process. For the past three years, we have taken the children and their families on a week-long all-expenses paid trip to Disney World - a trip most of them could never afford on their own and one which they will remember for the rest of their lives!”
This year’s group - 44 strong - recently returned from Disney World with smiles and pictures, they said.
The region is fortunate to have a place like CEE, those who have worked so hard to make it a reality, and the many, many individuals who volunteer, donate money and supplies to make the children’s lives brighter and the parents’ responsibilities a little lighter. To learn more, email Dietrich at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.