2017-04-13 / Local

Union Street School students learn about the importance of helmets

Michael Schwarz, center, recently spoke to the students of the Union Street School in Springfield about the importance of wearing a helmet. Schwarz, of Chester, suffered a traumatic brain injury eight years ago while snowboarding and told the students he's alive because he was wearing a helmet. Schwarz is shown here with Ms. Rounds' fourth-grade class.Michael Schwarz, center, recently spoke to the students of the Union Street School in Springfield about the importance of wearing a helmet. Schwarz, of Chester, suffered a traumatic brain injury eight years ago while snowboarding and told the students he's alive because he was wearing a helmet. Schwarz is shown here with Ms. Rounds' fourth-grade class.SPRINGFIELD — Ask any student at Union Street School in Springfield who Michael Schwarz is and the response you’ll receive is fit for a celebrity sighting. In 2009, at the age of 22, Schwarz was competing at the World Quarter Pipe Championship in southern Vermont. The unthinkable had happened when Schwarz “caught his edge” at the top of the pipe, hitting his head twice on his fall. 

He suffered a traumatic brain injury and now travels to schools to talk about the importance of wearing a helmet, sponsored by the High Fives Foundation.

Jan Rounds, a counselor at Union Street School, has focused on teaching the student body about the brain. Asking Schwarz, a Chester resident, to share his story in the 13 classrooms made the learning experience of the brain personal. 

“I immediately stood up and said that I was okay,” said Schwarz about his accident. As soon as the words were out, Schwarz collapsed. His brain was filling with blood, three hours later and in a coma, he arrived at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. His father, Fran, a first-grade teacher at Park Street School in Springfield, said, “The doctor told me I needed to quickly see Michael — he was in bad shape and they needed to operate immediately.” His brain had to reboot and relearn how to breathe on its own — eat, walk, talk, see, everything we take for granted. 

As he told his story, Schwarz held the helmet he wore the day of his accident and said, “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t wear my helmet.” Schwarz then hugged his helmet, saying, “I love helmets.” The students broke out in applause.

High Fives Foundation, a nonprofit organization, sponsors Schwarz in spreading safety by reminding his listeners to wear helmets to protect their brains. Schwarz handed out swag in the form of High Fives stickers, headbands, water bottles and beanies to the students during the Q&A at the end of his presentation. Shortly after his accident, searching for his purpose, he started a sock company out of his parents' home. Each sock template is Schwarz’s own personal design. But Schwarz has said his true purpose is the connections, interactions and joy he shares at the schools he visits.

Kylie, a fourth-grader made sure the day that Schwarz visited her classroom, she wore her jacket with the High Fives Foundation logo on it. Kylie has her own story to share. Her father, Larry Nadeau was in a motorcycle accident 20 years ago, and as a result, he is paralyzed from the waist down. Kylie said that the High Fives Foundation sponsors her dad, too. She said the foundation had her father bike with them and talk to an local ATV accident victim. Kylie said, “My dad helps me practice for my sports. He plays goalie when I practice soccer.”  

Schwarz’s father, Fran told the students that on days when Schwarz gets stuck in sad thoughts, what pulls him out of it are the cards that folks have sent him over the years. Union Street School has started a “box-of-cards” for Michael. The box is wrapped in bright orange minion paper and they keep filling it with cards of thanks, jokes, memories and drawings. Please send cards to Schwarz at P.O. Box 611, Chester, VT 05143. 


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