LONDON LETTER: Inspirational story of a boy named Joe

YOU hear plenty about failing schools, bullying and awful kids, which tends to drown out the good stuff.

That’s a pity. Believe me, there is infinitely more good stuff.

Management works as a Headteacher’s PA at a school that is an interesting cross-section of lower-middle and working class England.

However, she doesn’t share much information with me as pupil behaviour is classified.

But there is one story that she has mentioned. It has restored my faith in people.

There is a kid at the school, I’ll call him Joe, who has a brain tumour. He misses a lot of classes due to treatment, but comes in as often as possible.

However, as 16-year-olds are all ‘immortal’, few pupils understand what Joe is going through and tend to treat him differently. Except one; who ironically is one of the naughtiest kid in the school. He is Joe’s best friend.

Joe’s housemaster and computer teacher, who go way beyond the call of duty, told management how Joe was struggling with increasing isolation as the tumour was affecting his eyesight, resulting in fewer activities.

Management suggested they form an ‘entertainment trio’ to organise something fun for him each Wednesday.

One of the initial events was the trio taking Joe out for a pizza.

I chortled at that; what school kid would want to go out for a meal with two teachers and the PA to the Principal?

Well, Joe did. He enjoyed it so much, it is now a regular occasion.

Joe then started popping into management’s office for chats when he was feeling low.

He is one of seven kids in a close-knit family anchored by a brave single mom who understandably is overwhelmed by the continuous chemo, the pain and relentless worrying.

So management invited her to the next meal. The family have little spare cash. It was a highlight in their lives that you have to see to appreciate.

Birthday gift

On Joe’s birthday the ‘entertainment trio’ sent out a staff memo asking if anyone would like to contribute towards a small gift. Within a blink, they had collected £300.

The GCSE Proms, the social event of the year, was coming up soon, and with some of the money the housemaster bought Joe his first suit. The look on Joe’s face was gold-dust.

On Prom night, management went along to see Joe arrive in his spiffy new threads. I think he experienced more happiness that evening than many of us, who take life for granted, ever will.

The leftover birthday cash was then spent on a weekend respite at a retreat for Joe and his mom.

Joe was able to spend a couple of days with ill kids in the same situation as himself. It was a gift from heaven.

Joe eyesight is now so poor that he no longer can play computer games. The school, thanks to the entertainment trio, is a light in his darkening world. So too is his friend, the naughtiest bloke around who should be given a medal.

Management in her immeasurable wisdom knew this.

She had once said to Joe during their chats, ‘I have no idea what you are going through,’ and he replied, ‘That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me, because it is the truth.’

This sparked an idea; why not let Joe tell in his own words about his exceptionally courageous battle with cancer?

It’s something few teens can imagine, so the housemaster asked Joe to address the school assembly.

Also on stage was the naughty kid who said that he could always stop being naughty, but Joe could not stop his tumour, and his bravery was an absolute inspiration.

There were few dry eyes in the room.

Joe ‘weakness’ is his love of Haribo sweets. After he had finished speaking, people in the front row tossed handfuls of candy onto the stage like confetti.

He lay down in a sugar blitz and laughed and laughed.

On management’s desk is a small bouquet of flowers. They are plastic, but undeniably heroic.

They exude indomitable zest; just like the person who gave them to her. Joe.

It’s a gift she will treasure forever.

Graham Spence

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