“Kids who are diagnosed… it’s really hard not being able to go to school anymore."By Andrea Alvarez

BRANDON, Fla (CW44 News at 10) – A tune, by definition is a melody that characterizes a piece of music. Much like the way Melissa Gackstetter characterizes her six year old daughter Laurel.

“She’s super fun and spunky. She plays piano… well she has piano lessons. She does horseback-riding,” said Gackstetter. “She’s very smart, very independent. She wants to do things herself. We had only been here a couple of months before her diagnosis, so it was a lot of back and forth to the hospital and then Covid and quarantine happened and so, you know, in some ways we gelled together.”

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Laurel played the piano in the background after finishing up a game of hopscotch.

“She just finished chemotherapy for Leukemia,” said Gackstetter.

“It’s not a building downtown that looks like a hospital or clinic,” said Mary Ann Massolio, Founder/Exec. Director of the 1Voice Foundation.

The first of its kind in the country, the 22 acre, fully accredited educational program partnered up with Hillsborough County Public Schools to provide a school for children with cancer.

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“I have personally had experiences with friends and family members who have had children battling cancer. I knew first hand why this was important,” said HCPS Board Member Dr. Stacy Hahn.

“Kids who are diagnosed… it’s really hard not being able to go to school anymore and you’re taken out of that social situation,” added Gackstetter.

Founder and Executive Director Mary Ann Massolio spent over 30 years as a pediatric oncologist social worker in Tampa Bay.  “Three years into my career, my nine-year-old son was diagnosed with fourth stage Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I learned what it was like to go from the staff lounge to the parent lounge.” And she says the idea came from her son Jay. “One of the things I learned was my son’s desire to go to school. All he wanted was to go to school. My son passed away six months into treatment and his words just resonated with me so much.”

With books, math, and classmates facing similar struggles, Gackstetter says it allows Laurel to focus on school. “To witness your child go through something so hard an fight for their lives… to have to think about the possibility of…”

“It’s not limited to Tampa. I’d love to see it go more globally and have schools for children with cancer throughout our country and the world. There’s no reason it couldn’t,” said Massiolo

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Click here to learn more about the 1Voice Foundation.