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Students learn value of giving

Most of Sally Howard's focus class has been working hard for Toys for Tots campaign

Brent Boyer

Despite temperatures on the wrong side of zero, sixth-grader Katherine Lynch dutifully stood outside Steamboat Springs Middle School one morning last week and rang a bell.

That was, of course, until Lynch set the small bell on the ground, where it quickly froze to the icy concrete.

It didn’t matter, Lynch said Wednesday. Sometimes sacrifices must be made when performing good deeds.

Lynch and 15 of her sixth-grade peers, all members of Sally Howard’s focus class, have spent much of the past three weeks organizing and carrying out their own contributions for the Toys for Tots campaign being conducted by Steamboat Motors.

“We wanted to do a fund-raiser for the Christmas season, and we decided Toys for Tots was a good one because everyone likes getting toys for Christmas,” student Kylee Swiggart said.

“Everyone should have presents under their tree,” added Anna Jensen.

Nearly 6 percent of Routt County’s population lives at or below poverty level, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 20 percent of those living in poverty are children younger than 18.

“A lot of people don’t have presents for Christmas because they can’t afford it, and they need food on the table,” Kirsten Brehmer said. “We have nice Christmases year after year, and we want them to have a nice Christmas, too.”

Howard’s focus class, which meets every day of the week except Wednesday, has used the first part of the school year for planning projects it could do, and community service was an emphasis from the beginning. The class agreed the holiday season is an excellent time for a service project.

After deciding to participate in the Toys for Tots program, the group of students needed to determine how much money it could raise to purchase new toys and games for underprivileged children. A goal of $10 per student, or $160 total, was set as the target.

Howard let the students borrow $160 so toys could be purchased ahead of time, and the students went in groups to Wal-Mart, where everything from board games to stuffed animals and snowboards were bought for targeted age groups.

With the new toys already delivered to Steamboat Motors, the students are working hard to raise the money they borrowed from Howard. The class made a video that was shown to every middle school class advertising a snowman-building contest that was held last week at the school. An entry fee of $4 was charged for each snowman team.

Members of Howard’s focus class also volunteer their time before, during and after school to ring a bell and ask their peers as well as parents picking up their children to donate whatever spare change they might have.

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Chloe Banning said of the fund-raising effort. “There’s a lot of work to do.”

But the rewards outweigh the effort, the students agreed.

“It’s fun to raise money for people who don’t have a lot,” Conner Herbison said.

Howard said the fund-raising and community service work performed by the children is important in several ways, including the self-directed learning it initiates.

“It’s an opportunity to do an enrichment piece with these kids,” Howard said. “They’re students who generally have the knowledge piece, so we’re trying to get them beyond their safe perimeters. It’s a wonderful experience.”

The students’ do-good efforts are something the middle school wants to emphasize schoolwide.

“We’re trying to create that emotional intelligence to where we’re treating other people better, and this is a great time of year to do it,” Principal Tim Bishop said. “I’m very proud of these groups for doing this. I hope we can continue it year-round.”

Howard’s class isn’t the only group of students making an effort to help others. The school’s chapter of the National Honor Society adopted a family, and the student council led a successful food drive, Bishop said.

Along the way, each of the children is learning a valuable lesson.

“They’re making a personal connection to giving,” Howard said.

But perhaps no one said it as well as Jensen.

“I’ve learned it feels good to give back something,” Jensen said. “I don’t know why, it just feels good.”


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