Students help Newtown one penny at a time

S tudents at Whitehall Elementary School are hoping several thousand pennies will provide some relief for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

Students recently dedicated the proceeds from this year’s Penny Wars to the grief-stricken community.

Over the course of a single week, students raised a total of $1001.01, mostly in pennies with an occasional nickel, dime, quarter and dollar bill mixed in.

“There were a lot of pennies to count,” said Ann Martell, who played a significant role in organizing the endeavor. “I spent a total of 20 hours counting pennies.”

Like many people, Martell was aghast on Dec. 14 as the details of the tragedy began to circulate. Her daughter, Kadee, a fourth grade student at Whitehall Elementary School was equally upset and as she and several of her friends sat down in front of the television that evening and learned what had happened.

“They became very upset and started asking how they could help,” Martell said. “I racked my brain thinking of ways we could help.”

What she came up with was something called Penny Wars, an annual fundraiser started two years ago by Sara Lestage, which has previously raised money for victims of the Japanese tsunami, among other causes.

“I figured everyone has some pennies floating around the house,” said Martell, who added she was sensitive to the fact that many people may not be able to donate much money.

The effort took on added significance when Martell discovered her daughter’s teacher, Christopher Fowler, attended Sandy Hook Elementary School as a child.

“It (the tragedy) hit very close to home,” Fowler said.

“It was a very difficult situation to breech with young students. I kind of left it up to the parents but I know a few students were nervous and were afraid to come to school.”

After speaking with Fowler, Martell received permission from Elementary Principal Dave St. Germain and Superintendent James Watson to move forward with the idea.

The basic premise of penny war is every grade has a jar into which pennies can be placed. The jar with the most pennies is named the winner.

But to add a little excitement and boost donations, students can sabotage other grades by placing silver coins in the jar which decreases the total amount of pennies. For instance, if one jar had 100 coins and someone put two quarters in it, the total falls to 50. Dollar bills are doubled, meaning they could counteract 200 pennies.

“It worked really well,” Fowler said. “The kids really enjoy it.”

He said the fundraiser helps foster a sense of empathy among students.

“They learn to care for the community and their country and it helps them understand the idea of giving,” Fowler said.

In the end, the fourth grade class won and will receive a complimentary ice cream party sometime before winter break.

Fowler said he’s still determining the exact charity in Newtown the money will be dedicated to. He said he’s heard the possibility that the community may build a memorial park and the money could be used to help achieve those ends.

“This was a great fundraiser. The parents and the kids did all the work. They deserve all the credit,” he said.




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