Denfeld News

April 9, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

Northland students donate pennies for peace
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 pitch in.

“It’s just pennies — something that’s common over here but could buy a pencil over there,” Kokotovich said.

“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 group.

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 for $443.58.

“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 said.

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.

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