PHILADELPHIA — On Monday morning, a small group of Indian River students gathered in the high school’s theater lobby, along with some staff members, to unveil a new creation: a collection box for the school district’s new 1 Million Pennies Project.
In an effort to unite the Indian River school district and surrounding community, while providing an opportunity for educational enrichment, the Indian River Central School District has begun the project to collect one million pennies, the proceeds from which will be donated to the Jefferson County SPCA.
“You find them on the ground and people don’t think they’re worth anything, so it’s an easy thing to collect that everyone has,” Jillian Folino, a sixth through 12th-grade math coach, said.
While one penny isn’t worth much, one million pennies will equal $10,000 — a substantial donation for the SPCA.
The 1 Million Pennies Project came about after Mrs. Folino and her husband Joseph, an eighth-grade special education teacher, came up with the idea.
“Last year, we did a Lego project where we built a fractal pyramid, and I wanted to do a similar project where we bring academics outside of the classroom in a fun way to connect grades K through 12 and the community,” Mrs. Folino said. “We just decided that big numbers are kind of hard for people to understand, so if we could physically represent that, that would be a nice way to incorporate it.”
According to Mrs. Folino, the SPCA was chosen as the recipient for a few reasons, one of which was wanting a more universal cause that would really help out the community rather than trying to prioritize one family over another, though there are a lot of families in need within the district.
Although the project has only just begun and the collection container was unveiled Monday morning, the project has already seen participation from at least 20 local businesses, according to the Folinos.
“We really encourage people to send them through our students, but if they don’t know a student at Indian River, we also have put jars in the community,” Mrs. Folino said. “There’s one in Petco, there’s one at the SPCA itself, but then in all of our local businesses in the area there’s also a jar as well.”
Each month, containers from the various locations around the community will be brought to the school and their contents will be added to the collection box. The school will accept any amount of money or coins and will convert them to pennies to be added to the collection.
Behind the collection box, a display has been set up featuring a poster showing one million dots representing the one million pennies, as well as a world map where different countries can be scratched off.
“Because we’re such a diverse school, we wanted to highlight all of the different places our students have been to and traveled to,” Mrs. Folino said. “We’re collecting pennies and penny equivalents in different currencies and then we scratch off where we’ve gotten them from on the map behind the collection box.”
The collection container built to hold all of the pennies is a cube, measuring 41 inches in length, width and height.
The weight of one penny is 2.5 grams, so one million pennies equals 2,500,000 grams, or about 5,512 pounds. The collection box, designed by a structural engineer from Gouverneur, was made specifically to bear the weight of one million coins without bursting.
The clear-paneled box with wooden edges painted a dark blue, proudly displaying the Indian River and SPCA logos on the front, will remain in the lobby outside of the high school’s theater indefinitely until one million pennies have been collected.
Though Mrs. Folino said she has about $20 worth of pennies currently sitting in her office, and a total of 1,500 initial pennies were dropped into the container Monday morning.
When the time came to add the first pennies to the box, the students arranged themselves two on each side to drop them after they tried to grab as many as they could hold in their hands.
Mary Anne Dobmeier, superintendent of schools, and Mrs. Folino were given the honor of dropping the last of the copper coins into the box.
“Hang on, we’ve got a problem, there’s a dime in there,” Mrs. Folino said as the gathered crowd laughed.
Moments later, sophomore Lacey Kelley jumped into the collection box to retrieve the unwanted coin.
The other students who participated in Monday’s unveiling were senior Matthew Howe and freshmen Alexander Whitmire and Dakota Goodman.
Mr. Howe, 17, was nominated as the spokesperson for the group of students, with the others more interested in adding to the box they helped to create.
According to Mr. Howe, the project came out of the blue after his class had finished working on a shed with a couple of weeks left in the quarter. When a faculty member approached the technology teacher with blueprints for the box and the class was asked if they wanted to help build it, they agreed because there wasn’t much else to work on at the time.
“What was thought to be a little side project turned into something much bigger and almost towards completion the gravity of it became much more real because the money that’s being put into it is going to go to the SPCA,” Mr. Howe said. “It makes me kind of happy to know that all that effort and time is going to a noteworthy cause and I know that the SPCA really needs that because they’re a donation-based organization.”
Currently, there are no set plans for another project like this, but Mrs. Folino said she foresees the school district having an annual project of some sort to tie the community with the school in a project capacity — just maybe not with pennies.
“This is a very unique project with the fact that it’s going to touch every student K through 12,” Mr. Folino said. “We’ve taken steps to make sure that every student has the opportunity to participate in some way or another.”
To learn more about the 1 Million Pennies Project and to see the latest collection total, visit http://wdt.me/sTbV4k