April 9, 2008
Northland students donate pennies for
By Will Ashenmacher
Northland students, inspired by the book “Three
Cups of Tea,” donate their pennies to help build schools in
Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The gallon jar in Room 341 of Duluth Denfeld High
School filled with change more quickly than social studies teacher
Adair Ballavance thought it would.
That’s the effect the message of Greg Mortenson’s
“Three Cups of Tea” has had on Denfeld students.
Ballavance’s advanced placement world history
students were among the thousands of Duluthians who read Mortenson’s
book as part of this spring’s citywide reading project. “Three
Cups of Tea” inspired Ballavance’s students to make
Denfeld one of several schools across the Northland that have collected
money for Mortenson’s Pennies for Peace, a program that collects
small change to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Ballavance’s 19 world history students read
“Three Cups of Tea” for class and it inspired them to
begin collecting change March 20, the day after Mortenson’s
sellout address to 2,300 audience members at the Duluth Entertainment
Convention Center. The school’s travel club, which Ballavance
supervises, also helped collect money for the drive.
“It had a pretty huge effect on all of us,”
Tim Kokotovich, a junior in Ballavance’s world history class,
said of “Three Cups of Tea.” “We all thought we
should see what we can do to help over there.”
Kokotovich and junior Alli Severson gave a speech
at an assembly March 26 and asked other Denfeld students to help
“It’s just pennies — something
that’s common over here but could buy a pencil over there,”
“A penny can go a long way in Afghanistan
and Pakistan,” Severson said.
The result became official April 4: $122.22 had
accumulated in the former animal cracker jar Ballavance kept on
her desk. The collection will continue until the end of the year.
When it’s given to the Pennies for Peace
program, Denfeld’s contribution will join those of at least
two other area schools.
Nanci Paulseth, a Title One teacher at Barnum
Elementary, spearheaded her school’s Pennies for Peace change
drive after reading “Three Cups of Tea” with her book
What originally started as a nice idea for the
school’s annual reading-related service-learning project ended
with Paulseth appearing onstage March 19 to hand Mortenson a check
“It turned into something way more than
we anticipated,” she said.
Barnum Elementary’s 400 students collected
the money between Feb. 25 and March 4.
Barnum fifth-grade teacher Rita Johnson said her
24 students were amazed to learn that some of the children in Mortenson’s
book were learning by scratching figures in the mud with sticks.
“They couldn’t believe that they were
learning in such a primitive way still,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s students decorated ice cream buckets
as penny receptacles and gave announcements over the public-address
system to encourage donations. The school organizes a service-learning
project each spring and Johnson said this was among the best-received
projects she’s seen.
“It was certainly one of our more successful
drives,” she said.
The student council at Congdon Park Elementary
also held a change drive for Pennies for Peace. In six weeks, Congdon
Park students donated $432.12.
Student council member Hannah Wodrich, a 10-year-old
fifth grader, said Pennies for Peace is a good program because it’s
a way kids can help other kids.
“It teaches kids how much they can make
a difference and it helps … kids in other countries who normally
wouldn’t be able to do this, to get schools,” Wodrich
Laura Andersen, a spokeswoman for Mortenson’s
school-building organization the Central Asia Institute, said most
of the money the Pennies for Peace program collects in a given year
comes from change drives held by groups such as schools, churches
and Boy and Girl Scout troops. She said contributions can range
from $20 raised by individual classes to $5,000 collected from entire
schools. Last year, the program collected about $100,000.
Since 1996, the Central Asia Institute has built
64 secular schools and established about 35 other schools in existing
buildings to educate tens of thousands of children.