By Devlin Smith
Though Joyce Clements’ 21 at-risk first grade students live in a high-poverty area, they’ve found a way to give back to people less fortunate than themselves. Clements has tried to impart to her students at Linda Verde Elementary School in Lancaster, Calif., how fortunate they are to be able to go to school and to have access to clean water. In response, the students wanted to know how they could help.
Clements found African Well Fund and started a penny drive in her classroom, integrating the change-counting with her math lessons. Thanks to matching funds from Clements and her husband, the students collected enough money to impact the lives of hundreds of people, an accomplishment the first graders are very proud of and excited by.
Clements took the time to answer a few question about this project and her wonderful class.
How did you learn about the African Well Fund?
I found you on the Web. I was impressed by the number of people we could impact with our donation if we joined your project.
Why did you think AWF would be a good organization for your students to fundraise for?
I told my students that each dollar they gave would help one person have water to drink from a clean well. I based this on previous research. One of my students came back to school the next day and said, “My mom doesn’t believe you.”
When I found your project could help three people for every dollar I thought that was pretty amazing, so we chose you.
How did this tie in with your lessons?
Our school is very focused on state standards. In California, State Standard 1.4 for Number Sense, first graders are to learn to count coins and be able to show different combinations that equal the same amount.
This is a complicated process for them and I have been developing approaches that involve hands-on learning over the last several years, with varying success. This year has been by far the most successful approach and my students are able to count coins very well now as this project has been very tangible and riveting for them.
It took about five minutes each morning. Here is what we did: We moved the marker on our days-of-school number line and then the helper of the day went to our math board and added a large vinyl static sticker penny to our coin display to match the number of the day of school. By day 35 we had 35 cents in vinyl static coins on our board. We used large vinyl static coins to illustrate that number so each child could see.
Each time five pennies were added to our total, I would ask, “Hmm, what other coin equals five cents?” Then the helper traded the five pennies for a nickel. If we had two nickels, I would ask, “Hmm, what two coins equal a nickel?” and traded the nickels for dimes. When we had two dimes and a nickel, we traded it for a quarter.
Each day became a different combination of coins for the helper of the day to count, add a cent to and re-count after any transfers were made. One weakness of this system is that the static coins are not life size, and the students needed real coins to handle, look at and practice with. But real coins are quite small and lose visual interest for the group or disappear later in the day.
One day, after an exhortation about the blessings of school and comfortable shelter, water and food they have access to, one of the students said they wanted to help out people who don’t have water. So I decorated two cans (one is an empty cylinder tea can and one a metal cylinder oatmeal can) and cut slots in the top of each.
We used the smaller one to count out each child’s donation, then opened the can and removed a running-tally tag inside the can and added the new amount to the running total. Then I took that day’s donations and transferred it to the larger can and placed it out of reach up on a cupboard, leaving the daily can empty for the next day’s contributions. This allowed for real-coin application and, most importantly, made coin counting very relevant and interesting to the students.
What did your students think about raising money for AWF?
Many were very pleased with the difference they could make for others and were deeply impacted by the power they have to touch people’s lives so valuably.
I think of one of my brighter and deeply compassionate boys, who is African-American, was impacted in a life-changing way. Always deeply struck with compassion when he sees others in pain or hears about troubles in the world, he has struggled with feeling helpless and hopeless to make a difference with things like endangered animals and melting ice caps. When I would teach on things of this nature, I would see such a look of worry and despair melt the smile off his face, as if the world were coming to an end this minute.
When we started raising funds, he became very animated. It was easy to see that he was empowered and inspired by what our little class of seven year olds could do. Now he is raring to go for our next fundraiser project.
How did you raise funds?
I told my students that they were very blessed to have a school to go to so they could learn to read and write and grow up and get great jobs and make a difference in the world. I contrasted this statement with a few facts about other children in the world who do not have school or who have horrible conditions and very few resources, how some of them walk three miles to school to write math facts in the dirt with sticks because they want so much to learn.
One day, I mentioned how some children do not have clean water to drink. This hit home for them as they live in a desert and end each recess quite thirsty and wanting the bottled water in the room rather than the yucky-tasting water from the faucets outside. I shared how those kids have to walk “as far as the movie theater” (three miles) to get their water and then the water they can find will often make them sick because it is too dirty. They were horrified by this.
I taught them that some good people are going to those towns and digging wells so those children can have clean water near their houses, and that people in our country can send money to help them do that. They asked me if they could send money.
I told them they absolutely could and that if they brought money in we would save it, count it up and send it to them. So they started bringing in donations, first dimes and nickels and quarters, then dollar bills.
We got to about $30 and I was so proud of them that I told another teacher about them (my husband, who also teaches first grade) and he was so impressed that he decided to match what they gathered.
The next day, I explained what that would mean to my students, that every dollar they brought in would now double and become two, so their $30 was now worth $60. They really liked that idea so they started bringing in $5 dollar bills and even a few $7 donations (a few parents might have liked the leverage as well).
I was so proud of them that I decided to match them, too, and I showed them how their current total of about $40 would become $120 with our added matching program. This caused even more momentum.
What was your grand total?
Our grand total was $68.49 from the students. With the matching funds it came out to $205.47.
What did your students think when they learned they raised that amount?
Each day when we counted up their daily amount and added it to their total, and then tripled it by adding the matching amounts, they were amazed and very excited. Lots of “WOW!” and “Cool!” and big smiles and “Oooohhh, my g-osh!” comments happening. They were very engaged.
What kind of lasting impact do you think this has had on your students?
I know that the experience of giving has had a deep impact on at least eight of them. It is so important to experience the power of making a difference personally, and to feel powerful for good.
Many of my students come from homes where their families are living day-to-day and are sometimes feeling overwhelmed by life. There are many crises in some of their worlds that contribute to this feeling. Having an opportunity to help you fight and overcome a crisis in someone else’s life has been a very empowering and energizing experience for them.
I think it has allowed them to connect in a very tangible way with how much difference their lives can make, how blessed they really are, and how connected we are with those we do not know.
Do you plan to do other fundraisers in the future?
Yes. I have purchased lots of books for our room and most of my students have done a great job learning to read this year so they really enjoy books. I have told them about kids in other countries who don’t have kids books to read and that $1 can buy a colorful reading book for another student through Room to Read. Any further donations we get this year will be sent to them.
I will definitely do this fundraiser again next year for one of your well projects with my new group of students.
Did you have any participation from other classes, parents or community members?
Other than the matching by Mr. Clements and the donations from parents (suspected), not this year. But I did tell my principal about this and she was very impressed and is thinking of hitting up some local businesses to do a matching program for next year.
What do you think has been the greatest lesson of this project for your students?
State standards have been met and they know how to count change because the counting is riveting to them
They are very blessed to live in America, regardless of their relative struggles
They have power for change; they can make a difference for others
Anything else you’d like to share about this project.
Since this “counting project” has such multi-faceted impact and deep interest and relevance to their thinking, wouldn’t it be just amazing if first grade classes across the country started gathering their pennies, dimes and nickels (if not quarters and dollars).
What a difference we can make together.
By Devlin Smith