Teachers at Wallace Elementary School frequently attempt to extend pupils’ awareness beyond the classroom, says sixth-grader teacher Babs Dodd.

Canned food drives and clothing donations make students aware of community needs, and after reading a book about an abused dog, fourth graders at the school recently raised funds and purchased cat litter and pet food for the SPCA.

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Still, some lessons are learned more poignantly than others. As Dodd worked last fall to educate her class about Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), actor Michael Zaslow passed away. Zaslow, an ALS sufferer, had corresponded with Dodd’s class. His death gave an immediacy to the subject the students would not otherwise have received.

“It was such a sad thing,” Dodd says. “We felt like we had known him personally.”

Zaslow died in December, just as members of Wallace’s Announcer’s Club began a fund-raiser to benefit ZazAngels, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing money for research and education about ALS. With assistance from Dodd and Pat Minter, a speech teacher, club members wrote and presented speeches about ALS.

Perhaps it was Zaslow’s death that touched the students, Dodd says, or perhaps it was the unexpectedly large number of students who knew someone with the disorder. Whatever the reason, students gave generously of their nickels and dimes, raising approximately $150 for research and education about ALS.

Those who contributed 25 cents or more had their names entered in a drawing for memorabilia provided by the organization. Victor Sandy won a baseball with Lou Gehrig’s picture, Susanna Lawrence a t-shirt, Kari Kennedy a book and bumper sticker, and Jody Benoit a set of books on courage.

An estimated 30,000 people nationwide have been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, known medically as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The disorder affects patients’ neuromuscular systems, eventually rendering them unable to move, speak or even breathe. Their minds, however, remain clear. ALS has no known causes or cures.

ZazAngels was founded by Zaslow’s wife, Susan Hufford, and Brynn Thayer, a former RISD teacher and a close friend of Dodd who played opposite Zaslow in the soap opera One Life To Live. The organization conducts a number of fund-raisers each year and maintains a web site (cureals@zazangels.com).

In fact, the friendship between Dodd and Thayer helped spur the students’s fund-raising efforts. Dodd was making ribbons for ZazAngels one day after school when Minter happened by. A discussion followed.

“We thought it would be a great thing for kids to become aware,” Dodd says.