Bigfork Kids Collect Change for Peace

By Beacon Staff

How many pennies does this gallon jar have?” asks first-grade teacher Sharon Lamar.

“Five-thousand!” answers 6-year-old Ben Johnson. That’s $50, about one-seventh of a teachers’ salary in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s also several thousand pencils.

“Every penny is a pencil for kids in Afghanistan,” explains 6-year-old Kylie Olson. She and her classmates learned these numbers through the “Pennies for Peace” fundraiser. It’s an offshoot of the Central Asia Institute, founded by Greg Mortenson of Bozeman. The institute is building schools, and programs like “Pennies for Peace” help pay for basic school needs, like pencils and teachers.

“To us a penny isn’t worth much,” says Lamar, “so it’s good how they can see what a penny can mean.”

The students from Lamar’s class have been joined by several other classes at Bigfork Elementary School. They brought collection jars into businesses throughout the town. Jars went out in November, after Lamar read Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea. The book details his experience in Pakistan. After a failed attempt to climb K2 he got disoriented and lost. He was nursed back to health by Pakistani villagers, and he promised to come back and build schools.

The students set a goal of $365 worth of pennies and only pennies (no nickels, dimes, or quarters,). They want to cover the salary for one teacher for one year. As of Friday, Jan. 25, they’d counted out $228 worth of pennies.

“With all the pennies we’re still collecting,” says Lamar, “I think we’re going to make it.”

The fundraiser is part of the class’s curriculum: math and social studies. In addition to learning about the culture of the people living in Afghani and Pakistani villages, they’re seeing results from hands-on math. Each Friday a student’s parent brings in the jars from around town. The kids count out the pennies on their “hundreds sheets.” Each hundred makes one dollar which they represent with a small, green, paper dollar taped onto a weekly chart. At the end, they’ll take a field trip to the bank where they’ll see the bankers confirm their count, and cut a check to help out a class of kids halfway around the world.