By James DeWeese
The more than 300 kindergarten-through-fifth grade students who make up the school's Math, Science and Technology Academy have set themselves a goal to raise $1,500 for the relief effort. That's 150,000 pennies, the proud students tell you. They and their teachers will also tell you that their target number is no accident: When they started collecting, it represented the number of reported deaths from the Dec. 26 undersea earthquake and killer tidal waves.”When you get up to 150,000, I can't conceive of that myself,” said Gerry Haverty, the academy's math teacher. Haverty and the other teachers on her floor conceived of the program as a way to do some good while also helping put the massive death toll in perspective. Haverty said the idea occurred to her after watching a documentary on a school in the south that had students collect six million paper clips to help them understand just how many lives were claimed by the Holocaust.”It's kind of for us to see how many people died in Southeast Asia,” said Julian, 11, a student in teacher Liz Johnson's fifth grade class. So far, he has committed 2,400 pennies to the effort.Before launching the project, teachers on the floor held an assembly where they explained the tsunami to students and coached them on where they might find pennies for the donation drive. Of course, the children haven't had much trouble coming up with some ideas of the own: They've plucked pennies from couches, off the floor and from their mothers' purses.For every 100 pennies students contribute, teachers affix another sticker to the fund-raiser buttons made by the school's technology teacher, Grace Tripoli-Monroe. Abigail, from Heidi Palazzola's class, had already moved onto a second button last Friday.For every 500 pennies the classes raise, they put another symbol on a tracking graph posted in the school's hallway. It's just another way teachers have turned the fund-raising drive for the relief effort into a teaching opportunity.When an earthquake of epic proportions struck off the coast of Indonesia, sparking the massive killer waves, students in the Math, Science and Technology Academy were already studying whether phenomena in advance of their annual science fair.Teachers said the lessons have taken on even more significance in the wake of the disaster.The penny drive has become a model for other academies inside PS 19. And students from elsewhere in the building may be invited to pitch in as soon as the MST students reach their goal.”They're excited,” Johnson said of the students. “They're really doing their best. Even teachers are giving money. It's great and it's a big money.”Haverty said the pennies raised will be pooled and shown to students to give them an idea of the extent of the tsunami disaster. The funds will then be donated to either the American Red Cross' relief fund or AmeriCares.Reach reporter by James DeWeese by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.