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Rock Creek Elementary students collect pennies for schools, hope and peace

A single penny can buy a pencil while 2,000 can pay for a year at a school in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

And that’s just what students from Rock Creek Elementary School were hoping for when they participated in the Pennies for Peace campaign from January through March.

Students collected $3,372.06 during the campaign, with the money to be sent to the Central Asia Institute, founded by Greg Mortenson who wrote, “Three Cups of Tea,” the book that inspired second grade teachers Cheryl Peerenboom and Nancy Hash.

Peerenboom read the book last summer, which recounted Mortenson’s mountain climbing trip to K2, the second highest peak in the world located on the border between China and Pakistan. The book describes how on his way back from his attempt, “he stumbled upon this little village ... there he saw children writing in the dirt with sticks.”

After Mortenson returned to the United States with the goal to return to Pakistan and build a school, he visited Westside Elementary School where his mother Jerene served as principal, in 1994.

“One of the children overheard the conversation and the next day he brought in his piggy bank,” Peerenboom said.

On www.penniesforpeace.org, it explains that Mortenson had failed to find supporters elsewhere, then he gave a speech at his mother’s school and showed a slide show of photos.

““I’d been having a really hard time explaining to adults why I wanted to help students in Pakistan,” Mortenson said on the Web site. “But the kids got it right away. When they saw the pictures, they couldn’t believe that there was a place where children sat outside in cold weather and tried to hold classes without teachers. They decided to do something about it.”

After reading his book recounting the experience, Peerenboom persuaded Hash to read it, then Mortenson visited Seattle in mid-December and the teachers went to hear him speak.

“It was a packed house,” Hash said. “I knew when we walked out of there that we were going to do this.”

Next they went to their principal with the idea and in January began the Pennies for Peace campaign with a club at the school.

Students worked on the project, meeting weekly to make posters to get the word out, create labels for collection jars, provide updates on the fundraising during daily bulletins and count the change that came in from the jars that were in each classroom.

During the weekly meetings a core group of 22 students were involved in the campaign.

“The first thing Cheryl and I wanted to do is to answer the question, ‘Where in the world is Pakistan and Afghanistan,’” Hash said. “They didn’t really have a good concept of where those places were.”

Hash and Peerenboom taught them about where Afghanistan and Pakistan are as well as why Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute wants to help them, as well as introduced them to plays and literature, artwork, not to mention the valuable math skills the kids developed counting the coins as well as charting the progress of the fundraiser.

“They got really good at counting coins,” Hash said. “Sometimes it would be a treasure hunt. We would go through the coins and at the bottom of the tub there would be a $20 bill. Other times we’d find funny things like Chuck E. Cheese coins.”

But, the youngsters also got a chance to contribute in a meaningful, real life way, Hash said as well as develop some cultural diversity.

“In a school like ours and in a community like Maple Valley, Cheryl and I thought it would go a long way,” Hash said. “We thought it would be a good way to connect. Yes, there’s a war going on, but, we’re not at war with the boys and girls there.”

Jacob Vanderwaal, a third grader, said he found pennies between the couch cushions and underneath the couch.

“Every day I would go and search for pennies in my house and donate them into the Pennies for Peace jar,” Vanderwaal said. “I wanted to help other kids get a good education.”

Third grader Colter Papritz gave jars with the Pennies for Peace label on it to his parents and grandmother and “at their work they went around asking people for pennies... so that the kids would have to sit on the ground writing in the dirt.”

For Binta Sanyang, who is in second grade, it was worth the effort to tromp around the Rock Creek campus “looking for pennies all over the school.”

“I wanted to help them out because I knew they wouldn’t get to have a chance like this to do what we do,” Sanyang said.

Hannah Rayburn, a second grade student, looked all over her house and found quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies then put them in a baggie then brought them to school “because then we can help the people in Afghanistan and Pakistan get money to build schools and get school supplies.”

Third grader Laura Myers said her mom made two penny jars.

“She put one at our house so when my dad had loose change, he put it in there,” Myers said. “Then she put one on her desk at work so her co-workers would come by and put pennies in her jar.”

Myers said it was important to help children in Afghanistan and Pakistan so they could be educated and take care of their families.

Giovanna Fuda, who is in second grade, said she would find pennies on the ground at school during recess and put them in the jar. She gave up recess time twice to count pennies and roll them “because I want them to have a school and a playground and a classroom so they don’t have to write in the dirt with sticks.”

“When I first heard about the Pennies for Peace campaign, I was really excited to help other people,” said second grader Neena Chana. “The first day I didn’t really know much, so, I didn’t bring any pennies but the next day I brought a lot of pennies. I found them in my dad’s little money drawer and I found them in my wallet, too.”

Chana said she wanted to help with Pennies for Peace because “some people in Afghanistan and Pakistan don’t have the things we have, so, we want to try and raise enough money to give them all that stuff that they need.”

Kendal Gaylord said she spent a lot of time counting pennies and “we made this chart to see how many pennies we rolled.”

“It’s important because there’s a lot of people there that don’t have very much money and we need to help get more money so they can buy the stuff they need,” Gaylord said.

Students learned that a penny goes a long way in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With one, you get a pencil, with two or three you can buy an eraser, with 15 you can buy a notebook, while 200 pays for a child’s school supplies for a year.

“As an educator, I thought it was important to work to promote peace,” Peerenboom said. “It is a step in the right direction toward peace.”

Pennies for Peace and the Central Asia Institute has built nearly 100 schools since the foundation began in 1996 which serve more than 28,000 students in both countries.

“The children learned that they can reach halfway across the world and have an impact on other children’s lives,” Peerenboom said. “It was a whole school effort. So, we were all community contributors. Just learning that a penny can make a difference ... it was a good experience, a very positive experience.”

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