Five years ago, Elkridge Elementary School could boast a rather unusual distinction. Three families had children with cystic fibrosis in the school.
For parents of those children, the chance encounter with other CF parents provided an opportunity to raise funds and awareness about the disease. They started an annual fundraising event at the school, called Hop-Shoot-Jump for Cystic Fibrosis.
Children qualified for prizes by raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and also took part in basketball, hula-hoop and jump-rope competitions and activities.
Five years later, two of the families have moved away, but the event, now run by Amy Bahrij- czuk, still is going strong. Every year, more money has been raised than the year before. The first year, the total was $4,000. Then it was $9,000, $12,000 and $13,000. This year, $15,000 was raised.
"The people at Elkridge have been coming through," said Conrad Brookhart, one of two physical education teachers who keep the day running smoothly as one grade after another takes over the gym. The other teacher is Todd DeCrispino.
On Wednesday and Thursday, both half-days, pupils were given gym time to bounce and throw basketballs, listen to music, keep hula hoops spinning and jump ropes.
Two of those were Jamie and Jodi Bahrijczuk, who have cystic fibrosis. Jamie is in second grade, Jodi is in the fifth. Their brother, Joshua, will be in kindergarten in the fall.
Jodi said everyone in the school knows she has cystic fibrosis, and they generally don't give it much attention. Sometimes they tease her because she gets to eat a snack during school, and she impresses them by swallowing pills, a skill that many youngsters don't possess, she said.
But it is during the week of the Hop-Shoot-Jump event that she receives her "15 minutes of fame," she said.
"This week, I've been the walking billboard" for the event, said Jodi, wearing a ponytail and a gray T-shirt from last year's event. This year, the T-shirts are orange.
Friends ask her when they should bring in money, and how much they would need to qualify for prizes.
"It's fine with me," Jodi said. "I like people asking the questions."
She also likes helping her mother count the money, so she can see which of her friends raised the most, she said.
Pupils bring their money to the gym as they walk in. If they've collected $25, they can bring home a small stuffed animal, while those who collect $50 get a T-shirt commemorating the event.
Also, the child from each grade who raises the most money gets a prize, ranging from a Leap Pad for kindergartners to an MP3 player for fifth-graders. And everybody who raised money also received a green rubber bracelet with the words "Make a Difference."
Amy Bahrijczuk, who gets some of the prizes from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, works to keep the event fun. She said the important thing for pupils is to recognize that even people they know can have the disease.
For school officials, having so many CF kids in the school meant taking precautions to make sure the children with CF did not come in contact with each other. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Web site, a child with CF-specific germs cannot pass them to a child who doesn't have CF, but the germs can be harmful to others with CF. People with CF produce thick mucus that lodges in their lungs and obstructs vital organs, making it difficult to process food and to rid the body of bacteria.
"The teachers were very conscious of keeping the three children apart," said Bahrijczuk. "If they were in the same class at the same time, we needed them separated from one side to the other."
Bahrijczuk said she didn't know that she and her husband were carriers of the disease until their oldest daughter was diagnosed with it before she was born.
As carriers, the Bahrijczuks have a 25 percent chance of having children with CF. As it turns out, all three of their children have CF.
She began the event with the Berckley and the Cerwonka families, who both had kids with CF in the school. The Cerwonkas recently moved to Boston, while the Berckleys now live in York, Pa.
"We're always going to be telephone friends," Bahrijczuk said.
Having so many children with CF attending the same school was unusual. Materials from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation say that about 1,000 cases are diagnosed each year, and about 30,000 children and young adults now have CF.
Bahrijczuk said that children care more when they know somebody who has the disease.
"I think it's good for the kids to see at school that the kids have this and live with it," she said. "I would love to incorporate it in every school in the state because when you instill it in these little guys, they understand."