Million Pennies A Weighty Proposition

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Some learning experiences are more valuable than others, and the penny drive Payson Elementary School is conducting to aid a New York school damaged on Sept. 11 is turning out to be one of the valuable ones.

If a drive to collect a million pennies can be called humble, that's how this one began as a simple idea that came out of a discussion in PES third grade teacher Joann Doyle's classroom.

"We wanted to do something for one of the schools that would be lasting and tangible," Doyle said.

It was a project that first and foremost involved numbers and math, according to PES Prinicipal Roy Sandoval.

"We wanted the kids to comprehend what a million is," Sandoval said. "The way it's turned out, we are all learning just how much a million is," he added with a laugh.

It wasn't long before the project slipped the bounds of Doyle's classroom and the entire school got behind the penny drive. Now a lot of support is also coming from the community.

An early problem the students encountered was how to physically deal with the piles upon piles of pennies that were coming in. If anybody knows how to handle large quantities of coins, the students reasoned, it would have to be the folks at Mazatzal Casino.

Russ Jackson, casino controller, offered to roll the pennies for the PES students. On Monday the casino returned almost 96,000 pennies, carefully counted and neatly rolled.

"We already had 17,000 rolled," Sandoval said. "That means we are about 10 percent of the way to our goal of one million."

As that number grows, everyone including Sandoval is getting an object lesson, not only in how many pennies a million is, but in how much they weigh.

"What we have right now already weighs 1,000 pounds," he said. That means the final package is going to come in at around 10,000 pounds. I'm sure we'll convert it to something more manageable before we send it to New York," the principal said.

While it has turned out to be a weighty lesson for PES students, the penny drive's greatest value lies in just that the values that are being instilled. PES, like all other schools in the district, is hard at work implementing Character Counts, an education initiative put forward by Gov. Jane Hull based on core character values acceptable to both liberals and conservatives as well as to secular and faith-based communities.

Designed to reduce youth violence, crime, pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases and other anti-social conduct, the idea is to tie the "Six Pillars of Character" into all aspects of both school and home life, and to get the entire community behind the program to achieve maximum saturation.

In one way or another, all six of those pillars, the core values that are the foundation of the program, are relevant to the penny drive. The pillars are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

The involvement of the casino is an outstanding example of the kind of business participation that the program needs to be successful. And since all Rim country residents are being encouraged to contribute pennies to the effort, it's a great opportunity for total community involvement as well.

Laurie Pfarr, Character Counts site coordinator at PES, says it is a perfect project for the program.

"It especially teaches children the importance of caring about and respecting other people, and it teaches them to be responsible too," Pfarr said. "And when adults bring their pennies in, it shows that they can be caring and respectful and responsible too.

"Children need role models and it's really neat to see retirees bringing in their pennies. Some of them have gotten interested in what's going on in the school as a result. This is just really bringing the community together."

A similar drive to collect one million pennies in another community took six years to complete, Doyle said. She hopes Rim country residents will continue to get behind the effort and help PES students reach their goal sooner.

Pennies can be delivered to PES, 500 E. Rancho Rd., or you can call Doyle at 474-5882.

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