When teachers from All Saints School visited Mathilda Gune Idra in the hospital, they always read to her.
Mathilda herself loved to read.
So after the third-grader died last September of complications from a brain tumor, the school hatched a project — not a huge project, but a project from the heart; one intended to pay tribute to their missing schoolmate and comfort other sick kids.
Students read and recorded bedtime stories — about 30 of them — on CDs. The school will deliver them to Children's Hospital & Medical Center to thank the staff for all they did for Mathilda and her family and to provide a diversion for young patients when parents have to step out, or when the patient is just feeling lonely.
“It will help a lot of kids,” said Jacob Idra, Mathilda's big brother, an eighth-grader at All Saints.
Marlan Burki, All Saints' principal, said Mathilda's loss has been hard on her family. Students and staff also miss her. All Saints has a little more than 160 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, so students are close.
“They still miss her as much as we do,” Jacob said. “They treated her like their little sister.”
Mathilda's family came from Sudan as refugees in 2003. Sudanese refugees make up about 44 percent of All Saints' enrollment.
All but the oldest of the family's six girls and boys attended All Saints. Rachel is still there, in fifth grade. Samuel attends Gross High. Emmanuel and Jenty, the eldest daughter, are at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Their parents are Avelina Idra Rocu and Rebecca Apio Laze.
The school also has reached out to the family. Jacob said staff members call his mom to make sure she's OK. He and other family members often are busy with basketball and other activities.
Burki said the students came up with the idea of turning their annual fall Pennies for Patients cancer fundraiser into a drive, called Mathilda's Angels, to benefit the family. They raised more than $600.
School secretary Mary Lett came up with the idea of reading and recording stories. She knew of Mathilda's love of reading. A cousin of her husband's works at the hospital. The effort became the school's service project for National Catholic Schools Week, observed last week.
Melissa Hinkle, the school's computer teacher, coordinated the recording. She laid out childhood favorites for the student readers, from Silverstein to Seuss. Some brought favorites from home. Students sat down in front of a computer equipped with a microphone.
Reading aloud for a recording, Hinkle said, allowed the students a chance to practice fluency and expression.
A couple of them, such as sixth-grader Julianne Ferro, tried accents. Julianne said she wanted to read because she thought some young patients might not be able to do so.
“It might help them feel comforted,” she said. She chose “Chrysanthemum,” a story about a young mouse teased at school because of her unusual name, and “Miss Nelson Is Missing,” a lesson in appreciating others.
Hinkle said a student who has diabetes wanted to go back and add advice about dealing with illness. But they ran out of time rerecord. A fourth-grader, unprompted, closed her story with good wishes for the children who would be listening.
“Good night, sweet dreams. I hope you get out of the hospital soon.”