PRINCETON — It’s a typical holiday event in most classrooms across the country. Children either bring a small present for a gift exchange, or they each draw a name of a classmate, buy a small gift, wrap it up and bring it to school to exchange during their Christmas party. It’s been going on for years.
While teachers and schools are changing up the classic Christmas present or grab bag exchange, one teacher and her students have decided to take a more global approach to their generosity.
Julie Eisenbarth, a fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Princeton, is teaching her students to be “KIND” — an acronym for Kids in Need of Desks. Eisenbarth was watching MSNBC, and she saw a segment that caught her attention. She said a reporter for MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell, was on assignment in Malawi, South Africa, and found a need for student desks in their schools.
“He started KIND as a way to help these students,” Eisenbarth said. “For every $65 raised, a double desk and two chairs can be purchased for the students in Malawi. There are also options to provide students’ tuition for $130 a year.” Eisenbarth did some research on the charity and found it to be affiliated with UNICEF.
“In Malawi, South Africa, it is a struggle to feed, much less educate, their children,” Eisenbarth said. “One of the challenges is that the students have no desks, leaving them to sit on hard, dirt floors all day. Of course, this makes it difficult to write or concentrate after sitting uncomfortably for hours at a time.”
After speaking with her students, the class decided it was a worthy cause ... worthy enough to forgo a Christmas present for themselves in their classroom and focus on helping children who weren’t as fortunate as they are. Thus, the class created “Change for Change” — an opportunity for each student to bring in some spare change and donate it to the KIND project.
“(They wanted to participate) without any hesitation; they were all for it,” Eisenbarth said. “Not one of the kids showed any signs of regret on not exchanging gifts in the classroom.”
Change for Change has become a cross-curriculum project, using social studies, math and English skills as they work to help children they’ll probably never know.
Along with their teacher and their classroom aide, Sherrie Sims, the 9 and 10 year olds divide into groups each morning and count their money, writing and solving the addition on the board, adding the results to the previous day and charting it on their goal poster.
“Our goal was originally $65, but we surpassed that on the second day of collecting change,” Eisenbarth said.
But the math, English and social studies lessons are only part of what Eisenbarth hopes her young students will take away from Change for Change.
“We have talked about how lucky we are, and how we take things for granted,” she said. “We also talked about how the people of Malawi are experiencing a drought and struggle with lack of food, since they are predominately a farming community.
“My hope is that the students all earn a sense of pride and accomplishment from helping others,” Eisenbarth added. “I want them to be life-long givers. Our world needs more of that.”
The students made their way to Midland States Bank on Wednesday, Dec. 21, with baskets and bags of change in tow.
With the help of Sue Spratt, Midland banking center manager, and Courtney Wright, Midland universal bank employee, they watched as the machine counted their change.
The total? A whopping $650.63. The Princeton children’s squeals of delight might have been heard all the way to Malawi, South Africa.
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Fourth-graders talk about making a difference
Students were asked to answer questions about the Change for Change experience. Following are some of their thoughts about the benevolent effort.
How does the Change for Change project make you feel?
• The Change for Change makes me feel very proud for myself. It also makes me feel very good about myself." Hailey Musgrave, 10, Princeton.
• "The Change for Change project makes me feel proud because I am changing someone's life." Grant Morse, 9, Tiskilwa.
• "Change for Change project makes me feel amazing about myself. I love giving." Noah LaPorte, 9, Princeton.
• "The Change for Change project makes me feel extraordinary." Luke Smith, 10, Princeton.
• "The Change for Change makes you feel great. When you know you are getting kids off the floor, it feels great." Dominic Vogel, 10, Princeton.
• "The Change for Change project makes me feel grateful. I feel grateful because I am giving and not getting." Nora Schneider, 9, Princeton.
• "The Change for Change makes me feel good about giving to the less fortunate." Adam Odell, 10, Dover.
• "It makes me feel happy to do this project because a lot of kids don't get things." Bianca Gualandi, 9, Princeton.
What do you think the South African children will feel like when they get the new desks/chairs your class is buying for them?
• "I think the boys and girls in Malawi, South Africa will be very excited and happy that they get desks. The teachers will be happy that we're helping them, and that the students will be able to focus much better than when they had to sit on a dirt floor." Onnestee Adams, 9, Tiskilwa.
• "I think they will feel we changed their lives." Zoey Byers, 10, Tiskilwa.
• "I think the children will feel phenomenal because they have been waiting for so many years." Olivia Mattingly, 9, Princeton.
• "The kids in Malawi, South Africa will be excited that they get news desks and chairs. They will be happy, so they don't have to sit on dirt anymore." Paige Jesse, 9, Princeton.
• "I feel the kids will feel astonished for how much money us kids found." Anthony Vujanov, 10, Princeton.
• "I think they will feel amazing because they need them." Aieden Billiet, 10, Princeton.
• "I think they will feel great and confident they will learn better sitting at tables and on chairs." Mia Buccini, 9, Princeton.
• "I think the South African children will feel very thankful and grateful." Sydney Neff, 9, Princeton.
Why is Change for Change better than a gift exchange in your classroom?
• "It's better because you're helping other people in need." Brady Reed, 10, Tiskilwa.
• "It is better than a gift exchange because it makes other kids happy, and it makes me feel happy too." Anthony Lewis, 9, Princeton.
• "Change for Change is better than receiving a gift because we need to feel thankful for what we have. South African children might not get big gifts, so we need to make them equal to us." Madison Marquez, 10, Princeton.
• "Change for Change is better because we help them." Nicholas Wright, 9, Princeton.
• "People in Malawi may not have all the stuff we have. I think that the desks will be the kids' gifts." Asa Gartin, 10, Princeton.
• "The Change for Change project is better than a gift exchange because kids in Malawi won't have to sit on dirt floors. I feel like we're changing lives." Michael Kurth, 9, Princeton.
• "Change for Change is better than a gift exchange because I'm making other kids happy." Timothy Lewis, 10, Princeton.
• "I think Change for Change is better than a gift exchange because I know the minute those kids hear they get to sit in a chair or desk that they will be off the dirt floor jumping for joy." Addie Carr, 10, Princeton.