Kelloggsville – There were “pennies from heaven” this fall at Kelloggsville Middle School, where a new after-school club saw students collecting the copper coins as part of a focus on service.
But, unlike the song first made famous in 1936 by Bing Crosby, and more recently reintroduced to the next generations via Louis Prima for the movie “Elf,” for the Kelloggsville students it didn’t always feel like good fortune falling, as they dealt with hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of pennies for week after week after week.
Anderson Ovalles-Rodriguez was able to laugh about it after the fact, but he admitted that it was sometimes a bit overwhelming for him and his fellow service club members.
“It was a lot of work,” he said. “I don’t think we knew. But we love her, and we knew we were helping people, so we did it.”
The “her” in this case is English Language teacher Mary Campbell who decided this year that it was time to add a service club to the roster of after-school club options. It was an idea she had already begun to brainstorm and structure during the early days of the 2020 covid quarantine, she said.
“I envisioned something in which middle-school students would both perform volunteer activities around the community and for the community, and also be exposed to the idea of service,” she said. “Middle school adolescence is a critical stage developmentally. These students are navigating how to build healthy social relationships with others and find a sense of belonging in a community.”
Middle School Students Love to Help
Those factors, Campbell added, make the middle-school stage of adolescence an excellent time to be learning about service and thinking of others.
When the 2021-22 school year began, she and her fellow teachers learned that KEDS (Kelloggsville Extended Day School) would be allowed to start back up and that teachers could head the club of their choice. So Campbell and a team of students officially launched the Rockets Care Service Club, one of six after-school clubs held Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Students who are enrolled in KEDS choose which club they are going to attend each day, though Campbell said there is typically a core group who go to certain clubs every day.
In pitching the new Rockets Care Service Club, she said she used words like help and community.
“This is typically enough buy-in for students to come check it out,” she said. “If I know one thing about middle school students, it is that they love to help.”
As the club began in September, Campbell and her students discussed local, state, national and international charities and the differences between the types.
Students were given a dozen to consider for their fall fundraising efforts. After seeing a video from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the students chose to support that organization.
During the following KEDS sessions – phase one of the project – they created promotional posters for a fundraiser and a slideshow that would be seen by all homeroom PRIDE classes to make them aware of the foundation’s mission and what the fundraiser would entail.
Phase Two: Penny Wars!
Phase two was the fundraiser: a penny war competition between homeroom PRIDE classes. Every student has a PRIDE class, a 25-minute period that functions as study hall, career exploration, social-emotional learning and offers a sense of school community. There are seven PRIDE classes per grade level, and each class was given a milk jug to collect pennies for the penny wars.
“Students and staff brought in coins from home or even coins they found out on the pavement to contribute,” Campbell said. “Each penny collected in the homeroom milk jug would earn the class a point. However, silver coins and dollar bills were negative points, which meant students from other homeroom classes could ‘sabotage’ other classes by putting silver coins or dollar bills into their milk jugs.”
In two weeks the effort had raised $847.06.
Then came phase three.
In November and December, Campbell and her charges took on the task of rolling coins in coin wrappers so that the money could be taken to a local credit union and turned into a check for Make-A-Wish. Campbell said at least 100 students helped with phase three so that the coins could be counted and rolled before Christmas.
Fun That Felt Good
Karman Ellenwood said she enjoyed the entire process.
“It was fun,” she said. “It gave me something to do after school. Miss Campbell is a really good teacher, and, yeah, it was a lot of work, but helping other people felt good.”
Adriyanna Basaldua-Quintanilla agreed.
“It was a big mess sometimes,” she said. “Pennies all over the floor. But helping out other people, it feels good to help other people. And Miss Campbell made it fun.”
Campbell demured when she heard her students talk about her role in the project.
“They deserve all the credit,” she said with a smile. “They took on a big challenge and did great.”
She added with a laugh: “Shout out to Lake Michigan Credit Union for their patience, understanding and support of this project.”