Pennies from Heaven


Third-grade students from St. Patrick's Interparish School count coins as they end the Pennies From Heaven campaign that started at the begining of the school year.

ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2008 at 7:05 p.m.

"One a penny, two a penny, three a penny, more. Four a penny, five a penny, that's a nickel more."

In the case of students at St. Patrick Interparish School, more than a nickel has been raised for cancer research since August. In fact, the sum, as of Friday, was more than $2,500.

Since the start of the school year, students at St. Patrick have looked under couch cushions, on the floors of their parents' cars and under the monkey bars in the playground for lone pennies to donate toward the school's fundraising project, "Pennies from Heaven."

"The kids have been great," said Jennifer Nycz, co-developmental director for St. Patrick. "They work very hard to bring in pennies every day."

The fundraiser is the school's main endeavor for Catholic Schools Week, an annual nationwide celebration of Catholic education that begins on the last Sunday in January. This year's theme, Catholic Schools Light the Way, commemorates Catholic schools' mission in providing a faith-based education to children and preparing them academically and spiritually for success.

Students and faculty at St. Patrick said they felt their philanthropy highlights their dedication to the community and the student body's dedication to making a difference in their hometown and in the world.

Evidence of students' work is seen throughout the campus, where every homeroom had a five gallon water jug to collect pennies.

"It was a great idea because it's a way for the kids to see results, to watch their efforts grow and to see the amazing effects their project has brought forth," she said.

After a school-wide vote, students chose Lyrics for Life as the charity that will receive the funds raised. The organization, created by Sister Hazel frontman, Ken Block, raises awareness about cancer and funds research to find a cure for the disease. Block started the charity after his brother was diagnosed with cancer at age 14, losing his battle with the disease four years later.

The school also has a personal experience with cancer when one of its teachers had a nephew who was diagnosed this past year with eye cancer. On hearing the news, students showed an outpouring of concern.

"Cancer has been a big part of life for everyone, like it was for Ken," said Laurie Porter, co-developmental director for the school. "This is fighting for a cure and our kids are a part of that fight."

Being able to help in the search for a cure for cancer is reward enough for the students, she said. Still, a surprise is in store for the students Monday morning when a special guest will personally accept the donation on behalf of the charity.

"They're going to be very surprised, very excited and very happy," she said.

Other area Catholic schools are planning special events and activities for the week, as well. For Queen of Peace Catholic Academy, the week holds special significance.

"A big highlight of the week is that we are newly accredited, a big accomplishment for us," said Darlene Coogan, community relations representative with the school.

Being newly accredited coincides with the school's first eighth-grade graduating class.

"They've really lit the way for the academy," she said. "It's bittersweet because we're happy they're moving on, but we're sad because we have to let them go."

The week begins with a flag-raising ceremony and an inspirational speech by University of Florida basketball head coach Billy Donovan. The week also features a feast for grandparents, a drive-by breakfast for parents as they drop off their kids and a classic movie night showing the Christopher Reeve-directed film, "Everyone's Hero."

The most unique event of the week, Coogan said, will be the science fair, "Invention Sensation." Created by science teacher Criss Harwick to encourage students to develop their love of science, the science fair will showcase the creative inventions of the students. Each student is encouraged to think of an idea and, with the help of his or her teacher, work to create and manufacture that idea into an actual invention.

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