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SunAWARE teaches Thunder to protect their skin

On Tuesday, Sept. 26 and Wednesday, Sept. 27, all Thunder learned sobering facts about the dangers of exposing their skin to ultraviolet (UV) light found in sunshine and tanning beds.

Maura Flynn of the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation spoke with the entire student body in all four schools, adjusting her message to the age and development of each group.

At the younger grades, she focused on explaining that the sun’s rays contain a kind of light that is not visible to the naked eye—UV light. To demonstrate ultraviolet light, she asked Central Valley aide Pattie Day to take a light sensitive frisbee outside. Although it was cloudy at the time, the UV light passed through the clouds and changed the frisbee’s color. Mrs. Day then removed plastic wrap that covered the frisbee, revealing a white spot protected from the light by sunscreen. Children nodded understanding how effective sunscreen is protecting their skin.

Ms. Flynn said that it is the UV light that damages the skin. That light is most intense at midday in June (when the earth is nearest to the sun). It can also reflect off surfaces like the sand on a beach, water, and even concrete.

To the older children, she explained that damaged skin can develop melanoma (skin cancer). Melanoma left untreated can spread to other organs and ultimately be fatal. It was melanoma that claimed the life of Ilion alumnus Jack Day in 2015 (learn more about Jack and his courageous battle).


The only foolproof way to protect your skin is to follow the foundation’s SunAWARE acronym:

  • A = Avoid unprotected exposure to sunlight, seek shade, and never indoor tan.
  • W = Wear sun protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses year-round.
  • A = Apply recommended amounts of broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) > 30 to all exposed skin and reapply every two hours, or as needed.
  • R = Routinely examine you whole body for changes in your skin and report concerns to a parent or healthcare provider.
  • E = Educate your family and community about the need to be SunAWARE.
group of prekindergartners wearing brimmed hats and sunglasses, picking out sunscreen

A ready group of prekindergarten volunteers donned brimmed hats and sunglasses and held out tubes of sunscreen, demonstrating the proper way to protect our skin from the sun.

She invited younger students to visit her table and prepare themselves for the sun. They donned brimmed hats (ball caps don’t protect the ears or neck), sunglasses (UV light reflecting off surfaces can damage your retina, and sunscreen (a handful to cover all exposed skin). For sensitive areas around the eyes, she suggested waxy sunscreens (such as lip balms containing sunscreen).

Watch your moles

Jarvis and CVA students learned about nevi—the brown spots most people call moles. A changing mole can be an early indicator of skin cancer. She shared the ABCDEs of early detection:

  • A = Asymmetry—Imagine cutting the mole in half. If the two halves would be different shaped, get it checked out.
  • B = Border—If the mole’s border is not smooth, but irregular in shape, get it checked out.
  • C = Color—If the mole is not uniformly brown, get it checked out.
  • D = Diameter—If the mole is greater than 6 mm in diameter (the size of a pencil eraser), get it checked out.
  • E – Evolution—If the mole is changing in size, shape or color, get it checked out.

The older students also had the chance to see sun damage on their own skin. When ultraviolet light strikes the skin, specialized cells respond by producing melanin. Melanin is the brown pigment the body uses to protect itself from damaging UV. Although the melanin fades without the sun, the damage remains. Using a camera and UV lights, Ms. Flynn projected the faces of volunteer on an overhead screen. Students were able to see that damage as dark spots on their faces. (Note: Freckles are examples of sun damage – babies are not born with freckles.)

Black and white closeup of a face with dark freckles showing sun damage

The damaged areas of skin appear as dark spots under UV light.

Finally Ms. Flynn warned against the use of tanning beds. They are not safer than the sun. In fact they can cause greater damage than the sun due to their intensity, and the duration and frequency of sessions.

“If I can leave you with just one thing, don’t use a tanning bed,” she said.

Battle to keep Thunder safe

The presentations were part of an determined effort to education Central Valley students about the dangers of UV exposure and the risks of skin cancer. Mrs. Day spearheaded the initial conversations, speaking personally with classes about her family’s devastating experience battling the cancer that claimed her son’s life. She sought out the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation to present this year. Although the foundation does not charge a fee, it accepts donations to cover travel expenses and to support its continuing work. Donations from the Holland Heights Golf Club, the Barringer Road PTSO, and Jack’s Ride underwote the cost of this important work.

large group of students gather around the camera bordered with UV lights

Students lined up for a chance to see the sun damage on their faces.

High school girl looking into a camera that is bordered with two UV lights while woman watches in the background

With a measure of nervousness at what they might see, dozens of students lined up in front of the UV camera.

high school girls applies sunscreen to her face as woman watches in the background

Applying sunscreen completely hid any damage on the screen Why? The sunscreen block the UV light from penetrating the skin and illuminating the damaged spots.