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Pennies for Patients: Small school, big drive

Royal Oaks Elementary's student council celebrates the school's successful fundraiser. Pictured are: front row, left to right, fourth graders Theonie Vuong, Cammie Oquendo, Avery Horacek, Laila Mackondy; back row, left to right, co-adviser Trever Anderson, fourth grader Lydia Wilson, fifth graders Caleb McDanold, Abbey Seaton, Alyvia Zasada, Saima Khatoon, Payten Olson and Ashley Davis, fourth grader Marcus Perera, and co-adviser Tammi Nelson. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)1 / 2
Royal Oaks Elementary's student council celebrates the school's successful fundraiser. Pictured are: front row, left to right, fourth graders Theonie Vuong, Cammie Oquendo, Avery Horacek, Laila Mackondy; back row, left to right, co-adviser Trever Anderson, fourth grader Lydia Wilson, fifth graders Caleb McDanold, Abbey Seaton, Alyvia Zasada, Saima Khatoon, Payten Olson and Ashley Davis, fourth grader Marcus Perera, and co-adviser Tammi Nelson. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)2 / 2

Woodbury

When Tammi Nelson's class at Royal Oaks Elementary School in Woodbury set a goal to raise $400 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, she didn't argue.

Nelson averaged out the second-graders' ambitious goal — about $17.50 a student — during the three-week period of the annual, nationwide Pennies for Patients fundraiser. They talked about the ambitious goal and got to work, ending with a surprising school-high $510 donation. In fact, the top three fundraising classrooms in the school each topped $500.

The result of Nelson's efforts with her class — and those of Royal Oaks Elementary's staff, student body, and the student council she co-advises alongside fifth-grade teacher Trever Anderson — was a $6,515.76 donation via Pennies for Patients.

That's more than last school year, when the school raised $4,477.29 — likely one of the largest in District 833 and the state, Anderson and Nelson said.

Pennies for Patients is part of LLS's Student Series, which engages more than 13 million students and 850,000 teachers a year in collecting change as a service learning and philanthropy project.

Royal Oaks Elementary was competing against itself, with helping kids at the forefront of their minds.

"To go up $2,000 is amazing," Anderson said.

"I was shocked," Nelson said.

At Royal Oaks Elementary, students assembled to watch "Why, Charlie Brown, Why?" an episode that focuses on Janice, a character with cancer, specifically leukemia.

Then the student council asked other students to participate in the Pennies for Patients fundraiser.

"To motivate us, the top three classes would get a pizza party," said Caleb McDanold, a fifth-grader on the student council.

Every child brought home an empty cardboard bank. They returned with coins in their banks and the knowledge that "it helps kids with cancer," McDanold said.

Avery Horacek, a fourth-grader on the student council, said contributed to the project by making posters and she enjoyed learning about the inner working of fundraising.

Because Royal Oaks Elementary didn't stop at filling their banks.

Each day of one week featured a challenge and a prize: Pennies for Popcorn; Nickels for Nerds (the candy); Dimes for Doughnuts; Quarters for Crackers; and Bills for (Gummi) Bears.

There was a Song Challenge. Students voted by placing their change in a box for the song they'd like to hear played, in its entirety, over the school intercom. The winning song, Justin Timberlake's "Sunshine in my Pocket," was enthusiastically announced by physical education specialist Cindy Harmer's son, a DJ.

Teachers and staff pitched in, too.

Staff filled a jar with pocket change, and students who contributed a quarter were allowed to guess how much money was in the jar. All of the money in the jar went to the total for the class of the student with the winning guess.

The teachers held a chili cook-off, with coworkers each paying $5 to taste test. Jen Birkel, last year's winner, tied with fellow fourth-grade teacher Matt Gonzalez in the judge's choice contest.

"It was a semi-upset," Nelson said.

The $100 or so raised in the cook-off was far from a disappointment, though. Every little bit helps, Horacek and McDanold said.

Royal Oaks Elementary has participated in Pennies for Patients for many years, but in just the past four years raised almost $17,000.

Nelson issued a challenge to other schools to match Royal Oaks Elementary's donation.

"We're certainly not the biggest school. We're not the wealthiest school, so I'm proud of what we do," Nelson said. "If we can do it, other schools can too, or do more."

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