Cecil Sly Elementary collects $2,627 to help build schools in Sri Lanka

by: MICHELLE BERTALOT/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Three students from Cecil Sly Elementary School, Kirsten Kelso, Kelsi Kemper and Braiden Johnston, stand by a chart that shows how much money students and faculty have raised.

It's been almost two months since a major tsunami devastated the island of Sri Lanka, among other countries in Southeast Asia.
   As the national news coverage on the event has dwindled, students and faculty at Cecil Sly Elementary have not forgotten about the tragedy and are still trying to help and understand.
   "I think the kids get an idea of what happened from watching TV, but I myself still don't understand the enormity of what happened," said Cecil Sly Principal Dane Danforth.
   The school, as of Thursday, had collected $2,627.20 to donate to "Room to Read," an organization that helps builds schools in Sri Lanka.
   The fundraiser has skyrocketed past the goal of $2,500 and the total is still growing.
   According to the nonprofit organization, a school in Sri Lanka can be built with between $5,000 to $12,000. The Web site states that approximately 95 percent of the collected funds goes directly to building the schools.
   "That wouldn't even buy a car here," Danforth said.
   To help students understand a little more about Sri Lanka, fifth-graders Braiden Johnston, Kelsi Kemper, and Kirsten Kelso, researched the country on the Internet during their lunch recess for about two weeks.
   The three students presented a map and flag for their fellow students to see during the school's morning assembly last week.
   "We made this because we wanted other kids to know where Sri Lanka was. I didn't even know where it was until we did it," said Kelso.
   All three students agreed they would like to go to Sri Lanka and help.
   The project has even inspired Johnston to become a missionary.
   Although the three girls probably won't be leaving for Sri Lanka anytime soon, the money their school has raised will.
   "It's exciting. The $2,500 doesn't build anything here, but it can build a school for them. It's just amazing that the money can work that hard," said Michele Bechtold.
   Bechtold, an educational assistant at Cecil Sly, donated a day's worth of wages to the fundraiser.
   Alongside Janet Warner, who is also an educational assistant, the two wore a button that said, "Today I'm working for Sri Lanka."
   Head Secretary Barb Schultz estimates that Cecil Sly faculty donated about $600 to the fund.
   The money was raised solely on donations. The school pulled together collecting cans and spare change to reach the goal amount.
   Fifth grade classes raised about $200 in a pop can drive. The cans were collected and sorted by the Country Store in Powell Butte.
   Fifth grade teacher Joe Swinehart challenged his students to raise $80. After they met the goal, Swinehart said he would add the $50.
   He tacked a $50 bill high on the wall above the classroom as a reminder of the challenge.
   "I put the money up as high as I could go," said Swinehart. The teacher had to bring in a latter to tack up the $50 bill.
   "They were looking at it wondering if it was real," he said. His class raised a total of $111.49, plus the $50 Swinehart donated.
   But it wasn't just the faculty that made donations.
   Bechtold said a kindergarten student brought in a piggy bank with the student's "life savings" to offer the cause.
   Danforth mentioned a parent donated $100 to help.
   Swinehart added that a student took money out of his school lunch account (with his parent's permission) to put towards the fund.
   "All of the money was donated. To think we raised that much money and we didn't have to go door-to-door or sell anything... It's really phenomenal," said Danforth.
   The principal told students on Wednesday that the school had almost met their goal.
   "When we counted the fifth grade pop can money, it pushed us over the top," he said.
   "And the money keeps coming in," he added.
   The school will be accepting donations until the end of the school day on Friday.
   The fundraiser started as a simple idea during the winter break.
   Danforth was thinking about what his school could do after the tsunami hit on Dec. 27. His answer came while watching Larry King interview the founder of Room to Read, John Wood.
   "(Wood) went over to Nepal and saw some schools and they didn't have books, so he started Room to Read with the mission to build libraries, computer labs and get books for schools in Asia," Danforth explained.
   "I thought it was a good match for us to provide education to others as an elementary school," he said.
   When he talked about the fundraiser with students when school started, they were willing to do whatever it took to raise the money.
   Each day during the month-long fundraiser, Danforth would tell the students how much they had to go.
   "Everytime I'd announce the amount we had collected, they would clap. Today when we announced (we met the goal) they were screaming and yelling," said Danforth.
   The school stationed a thermometer in the front hallway, along with the three fifth-graders' Sri Lanka map to see how close they were.
   The principal wants to keep in contact with the future school Room to Read will build with Cecil Sly's funds.
   "We hope to continue a relationship with the school (that is built). Students would learn about their culture... It'll help our kids have a better understanding of the world," he said.
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