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College of Education > News and Publications > 2017: 01-03 news > Hectic lives of student teachers and THON volunteers all 'For The Kids'

Hectic lives of student teachers and THON volunteers all 'For The Kids'

A number of students in the College of Education's Elementary and Early Childhood Education program juggle teaching with volunteering, and it's all worth it, they say.

Volunteering for the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon typically means you have a passion to help raise funds that go toward research that helps young children not only fight but recover from the effects of cancer and live life to the fullest.

Michelle Warner learned a lot about THON while growing up in State College.
Enrolling in the College of Education’s Elementary and Early Childhood Education (EECE) major typically means you have a passion to teach young children invaluable information in the formative period of their lives.

Handling THON duties as well as out-of-town pre-service or full-day student teaching responsibilities in the same semester typically means you have no time for a normal student life, but because of that passion, you can live with that.

A group of EECE majors is pairing a variety of those time-consuming roles this academic year with no regrets but perhaps ample amounts of coffee. The landmark “100 Days Til THON” date passed last semester on Nov. 9, and since then preparation workloads for the Feb. 17-19, 2017, THON weekend have grown in intensity.

Those students are a small part of a large group of student volunteers who have raised nearly $130 million for pediatric cancer research since 1977, including nearly $9.8 million last year

What follows is a look at those EECE majors and their THON-related roles. They know very well how THON can be a lifelong, emotional vise-grip and they want others to share their experiences. A social media campaign (#MyPSUTHONStory) will celebrate the unique stories of Penn State alumni and friends by inviting them to upload a video of 45 seconds or less to their Facebook page or Twitter with the hashtag #MyPSUTHONStory, or by simply sharing a post including the hashtag, telling their individual story. People can nominate three friends to share their THON stories as well. Contributors with ties to the College of Education also are asked to include the hashtag #CollegeofEducation.

Here is a look at those EECE majors and their THON-related roles:


Kaitlyn Johnston is a THON engagement captain and is completing her student teaching duties.
From Ramsey, New Jersey, Kaitlyn Johnston is an alumni engagement captain whose duties include programs that involve University alumni – the Alumni Challenge and Inspire5 programs.

Johnston said the Alumni Challenge is a competition among graduation decades to determine which decade can raise the most money. A “big reveal” will be held to honor the decade of graduates who contributed the most.

Inspire5, THON’s newest movement, is a direct-mail campaign that allows alumni and other THON supporters to send solicitation cards to at least five of their family, friends and co-workers to encourage them to join the fight against childhood cancer.

Johnston had pre-service teaching duties in the Mifflin County School District in Lewistown last fall and added to that science, math and social studies methods classes. This semester, she’s teaching full time and running her own classroom as well as running THON duties.

“Passion is the biggest factor in how I budget time,’’ Johnston said. “I have wanted to become a teacher since second grade and grew up working with children. Every child deserves the right to learn and have a childhood, which is one of the main reasons why I work to ensure that my students are benefiting from my instruction and presence in the classroom and we are continually looking for new ways to raise money for children battling cancer.’’

Johnston said the energy on THON weekend in the Bryce Jordan Center is undeniably contagious and all possible emotions are experienced. “You watch kids get to be kids again and for one weekend, the cancer is no longer a part of their life,’’ she said. “You have a chance, in that weekend, to bring a smile to their face, make them laugh and give them their childhood back.

“Any moment of doubt you have about finishing the weekend can be immediately turned around by all of the kids present who are fighting a much tougher battle than not sitting or sleeping for 46 hours. In the end, it’s all about the kids. We are doing what we do all year long for the kids and that will never change.’’


Eileen Seitz is on THON's supply logistics committee.
When Eileen Seitz was 15, she watched her older sister dance independently at THON. That inspired Seitz to eventually – and successfully – plan the first Bethlehem Area School District Mini-THON that included 600 volunteers and raised $23,000.

Once enrolled at Penn State, Seitz served on the dancer relations, family relations, hospitality and, now, the supply logistics committees.

“Each experience has instilled a fierce determination in me to keep fighting until childhood cancer is eradicated,’’ Seitz said. “Every child deserves a happy and healthy childhood filled with playgrounds, classrooms, dance lessons, baseball games and the list goes on. My passion will not falter and my vision for this organization will not fade until no parent has to hear the words ‘Your child has cancer.’’’

Seitz managed pre-service teaching in a Tyrone Area School District first-grade classroom two days a week last fall. She also devoted five hours a day to her THON supply logistics duties which included supervising 20 captains, some of whom are in charge of THON Raffle (the organization’s largest alternative fundraiser) and some of whom are donor contacts who reach out to donors to get supplies donated.

“This has definitely been one of the busiest times of my life, but I would not trade it for the world,’’ Seitz said.


Michelle Warner is a THON hospitality director and is in the D1 block for pre-student teaching.
Having the advantage of growing up in State College and hearing from her College of Education student teachers about how they participated in THON, Michelle Warner didn’t waste any time checking out exactly what that organization was. Her kindergarten student teacher was dancing and Warner went to Rec Hall to watch.

“I may have never realized the scope of the organization until I stepped foot on campus my freshman year, but I had always wanted to get involved myself,’’ Warner said. “What THON does for children and families who are going through the worst times is bring them a spark of hope.

“THON provides financial and emotional support, as well as providing them with countless opportunities to smile and forget their diagnosis. THON is particularly special to me, because I have seen children in treatment, looking like they have lost every ounce of hope.

“As someone who wants to do everything in my power to help children, this was absolutely heartbreaking to me. THON can help ignite a hope within these kids so they can play at recess and dream about what they want to be when they grow up. Every child deserves that.’’

Warner is this year’s THON hospitality director and is one of 17 on the executive committee.

She leads 20 captains who direct 240 committee members for securing and serving all food and beverages for every THON event, including THON weekend.

She also is in the DI Block for pre-student teaching. “With these two jobs, it can become tough at times to manage,’’ Warner said. “At the end of the day, becoming an educator and helping kids in the classroom, along with supporting an organization that does so much for the kids who need it most, I truly could not find a better use of my time.

“Both commitments are so near and dear to my heart and, although I have less ‘normal student time,’ I wouldn’t trade it for the world.’’


Leigh Sabinsky last fall juggled duties as a THON entertainment captain, a member of the Penn State Lionettes dance team and student teaching.

Leigh Sabinsky serves as entertainment captain from her family relations liaison position that focuses on THON families’ involvement during pre-THON and THON events and helps run the fashion show and talent show on THON weekend. She is a member of Penn State’s national championship Lionettes dance team that performs at athletic events and competitions, and that alone is good for about 20 hours of her week.

And, most importantly, she was student teaching full time last fall. “Running on four to five hours of sleep each night, I wouldn’t be able to make it through my 14- to 16-hour days without coffee,’’ said Sabinsky, who is from Smithton, New York, on Long Island.

“Even though I am super busy, I enjoy every second of what I’m doing. THON has brought a whole new meaning to my life in every single way. My involvement with THON and the relationships I have made with families impacted by childhood cancer has made me realize that each day is a blessing, and to surround myself constantly with the people I love,’’ she said.


Emily Mallon is a communications captain for THON.
From Delaware County near Philadelphia, Emily Mallon suffered the unfortunate experience of having a friend killed in a car accident while still in high school.

“Through this traumatic experience, I was able to witness firsthand the grief and struggles a family goes through while dealing with the loss of a child/sibling,’’ Mallon said. “I became involved in THON to ensure one day no family has to go through the pain my friend’s family went through. Being involved in THON gives me hope that one day, cancer will be a part of the past.’’

She student-taught a third-grade class in the Tyrone Area School District and fulfilled her duties as a communications captain for THON. “My main job is to bridge the gap between Commonwealth Campuses and University Park as well as run a committee of 35 members,’’ Mallon said.

“The remaining free time I have is spent working at a preschool, at the gym or completing assignments.’’


Katie Marino is a THON captain of the family relations committee; she student taught last fall.
Katie Marino got involved with THON from the get-go, arriving at University Park from Lansdale in suburban Philadelphia and serving on the morale and dancer relations committees her first two years, respectively.

As a junior, Marino led 35 members as a captain on the dancer relations committee before becoming a captain of the family relations committee this year (new family contact person).

“My role is to welcome families who are new to the THON community into this beautiful organization with open arms and a warm heart,’’ Marino said.

THON’s mission was what attracted her to the organization, she said. “To give my time, energy and love to those who are going through one of the toughest journeys of their lives is an honor,’’ Marino said. “I want to relentlessly fight for the little fighters who inspire us each and every day.

“The feeling that fills my heart and soul just spending time with Four Diamonds families, feeling the energy on the floor THON weekend and sensing the love and unity that is the THON community speaks volumes. It is an amazing way to culminate my THON journey for the past few years, spreading THON’s mission and magic to those we benefit.’’

Marino, like the others, also handled student teaching responsibilities last fall.

“Holding this position as well as student teaching results in an incredibly rewarding semester,’’ she said. “I get to pour my heart into two facets of my life that provide me with boundless amounts of joy. Time management is something that I’ve definitely acquired throughout my journey as a Penn State student.

“I just feel exceptionally lucky to attend a school that has so many opportunities for me to pour my heart into, namely teaching and THON,’’ Marino said.

Jim Carlson (January 2017)