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Forgoing Valentine’s

Leigh Cook couldn’t be prouder of seven of her past fourth-grade students.

The group, now in fifth grade at Providence Day School, loves helping others and is passionate about making a difference.

Last February, the students read an article in the Time For Kids magazine about how much money is spent on candy, jewelry and gifts on Valentine’s Day. Then they read a different article about Beads for Education, a nonprofit that works to fund and support education for girls in Kenya. Billions of dollars were projected to be spent on Valentine’s Day, while a cost to fund one girl’s education in Kenya runs about $400, the students said.

“When I saw how much people spend on Valentine’s Day, I just started yelling,” Ethan Paulk, one of Cook’s students, said. “But it was a creative type of yelling, like, ‘How is this happening?’”

Questions, comments and concerns immediately erupted around the classroom, Cook said, and once break time hit, seven students in her class huddled together to come up with a plan.

“Conversations started among these seven about how appalling it was that we spend so much money on candy, yet it only costs $400 to pay for education. They wanted to do something,” Cook said.

The students jumped into action, researching, doing the math and figuring out what they could tangibly do to help. It was easy to think too big, one student said, and the group quickly realized they needed to start small. A total of $400 seemed doable, they thought.

So they started working on the pieces – Katie Beason created a website, Kelsey Caldwell started brainstorming advertising ideas, Jonah Weintraub sought help for a logo and Ethan reached out to Beads for Education to find out how to directly support one Kenyan student.

“They started talking and put together a presentation,” Cook said, adding Riley Gist, Christian Landis and William Wallace also were involved with the initiative, researching and helping prepare the PowerPoint presentation.

“Basically, they were thinking, ‘This is the project, and we are learning along the way.’ If we started with one, then we’ve talked about even trying to keep this up through their senior year.”

The students titled their initiative Project LEARN, with the tagline “One Million Starts With One.”

The students had to present their project to a panel of Providence Day School administrators and leaders before they could begin fundraising efforts. All groups on campus are allowed to hold one fundraiser on campus a year.

Project LEARN was the first student-led lower school initiative to make a presentation to the panel, Cook said, and had to go through the same review and approval process as all other middle and upper school clubs and organizations.

With the administration’s blessing, the group had the go ahead to move forward. Ethan and his mom contacted Debbie Rooney with Beads for Education, who connected them with Laureen Ayuma, a fifth-grade student at Top Ride Academy in Kenya.

Now, with a name and a face, the group is excited to make a difference in Laureen’s life. They plan to host a bake sale Oct. 18 at the school to benefit her education.

“When I found out that $400 is all it took, I was really surprised because that is so little to us since our (education costs) around $20,000,” Kelsey said.

“I read (what) the difference between what a girl’s life without an education would be like versus what it would be like for a girl who had an education, and it was significantly different,” Riley added. “$400 is all it takes – that’s nothing.”

The initiative aligns perfectly with Providence Day School’s mission of social responsibility. Cook isn’t surprised by her student’s efforts.

“Last year’s group was very selfless, always thinking out of the box,” she said. “There was nothing that I ever threw at them that they couldn’t do. I’m just so proud of them.”

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