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First school in the nation for kids with cancer opens in Florida

1 voice academy
Posted at 7:27 AM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 16:50:05-05

BRANDON, Fla. — Liam Kirchner is 6-years-old and is overcoming cancer. During his treatment, he wanted to go back to school, but he couldn't.

"He had a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm after being in the hospital for a long time, but he couldn’t go to school, to a mainstream school, "said Jackie Kirchner, Liam’s mother. "His body was still recovering. He was still very weak, and we needed a place for him to go where he could be safe."

They found that safe place when Liam enrolled in 1 Voice Academy in Hillsborough County, Florida. It's the only school in the country that is a fully accredited K-12 school for children with cancer, and Wednesday was their official grand opening.

"It gives them a place to be. They can go to school full-time and our goal is to have them get back into their classroom. We’re not trying to pluck them from their classroom but we give parents an option," said Mary Ann Massolio, founder of 1 Voice Academy.

It's an option that Massolio says she never had 25 years ago when her 9-year-old son Jay was diagnosed with cancer.

"I never thought about school until my own child couldn’t go, and I said 'you know what buddy, there’s got to be a better way' and there wasn’t," said Massolio.

Since then, Massolio made it her mission to make a better way. A mission to fulfill the wish of her son who passed away before being able to go back to school.

"It's very emotional," said Massolio. "Today actually makes my son’s 25th anniversary. So it's even more emotional today being able to cut the ribbon in his memory because all he wanted to do was go to school."

Now children fighting cancer can go to school.

"It’s probably the most meaningful thing I’ve done as a board member," said Stacy Hahn, Hillsborough County school board.

They say their hope is that the school will become the model for communities around the country to create a safe place for children with suppressed immune systems who can’t attend regular school.

"To see Mary Ann’s vision come to life and see all the people who support her and how she supports us, it has just been amazing to be part of this family," said Jackie Kirchner.

For more information about the school visit: 1voicefoundation.org

This story was first reported by Wendi Lane at WFTS in Tampa, Florida