URBANA - Yvonne Vitosky's math and citizenship lessons had their origins in reality: the bleak outlook for unwanted pets in the community.
Excitement grew Monday as Vitosky's Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School fifth-graders counted the results of their weeklong Pennies for Pets campaign and realized the money in their two huge jars would add up to $229.56, about $80 more than their goal. The beneficiaries: animals housed at the Champaign County Humane Society.
Teams of pupils hunched over their calculators, running numbers for each team, each class in the school and final results. But the math lesson wasn't over. Next they totaled contributions by class and average daily contributions. And Vitosky added lessons about rounding up numbers and looking at trends.
"Did the total of contributions grow each day?" she said, projecting the balance sheet on a screen.
"Yes!" her students chorused.
"That's a lot of copper," Vitosky said.
Class members made posters advertising their project and hung them all over the school. They also wrote essays about how they would persuade classmates and members of King's staff to contribute to the cause, and they wrote messages to broadcast over the school's public address system.
Every day last week, class members distributed manila envelopes to each class in the school so students and teachers could put pennies in them for the animals' benefit. Every day they collected the envelopes, brought them back to their classroom, counted the contents, and recorded the results.
On Monday, Kent Nguyen and Yunus Colak carefully tallied their last batch of pennies by twos. They were delighted to find dimes and quarters and even some bills among the contributions they collected from their assigned classes.
"I love animals," said Kent, who lives with two cats and eight birds. "At the Humane Society, they need help finding a home and a family to love them."
Each member of the class wrote his or her predictions for the total on the blackboard before the final count. Kent said his guess was $165, and Yunus said his was $180.
Karolina Kalbarczyk said her first action was to write "a really persuasive essay."
"I asked people to please donate, to be good citizens, to help animals find homes and stay alive. If everyone donates a little, it will help a lot."
Karolina and her partner, Chaekyung Roh, said the class collection had reached its initial goal, $150, by last Thursday.
"This is taking up most of our math time," Karolina said. "The jars are so heavy we have to wheel them down to the office on a cart."
Chaekyung said it takes a lot of cooperation to get the counting and recording job done - and compromising, since everyone wants to be the person who records the team total on the front board.
?We learned a lot of math,? she said.
The class gasped when Vitosky announced the total.
?That's a lot of money,? several said.
Vitosky said Humane Society Marketing Director Ann Strohmeyer will visit the class next week accompanied by four-legged residents there to accept the donation and find out more about the class project.
Steve Notaro, executive director of the Humane Society, said Vitosky extended the idea of collecting money for unwanted pets into lessons about life.
?Those kids learned a lot of great things,? Notaro said. ?They learned that we have pets here who need help and that these are social issues and problems. She added a math lesson and persuasive writing skills. That's one of those winning situations. You can't get much better than that.?
Last year, the Humane Society adopted out a record number of pets, 2,687 dogs, cats and other animals, and Notaro said it's on track to set another record this year.
?The number of animals coming in is pretty constant, but adoptions are up every year and so is the number of lost animals returned to owners,? he said. ?We're making progress.?
Vitosky said the math and writing lessons were valuable, but her students also learned practical lessons about what happens to animals when humans don't act responsibly.
?They learned there's not room at the Humane Society for all the animals that need help,? Vitosky said. ?And they learned that if they work together, they can achieve more.?
?It's fun, and it's a good math lesson,? said Chaz Ray, who lives with a dog and several birds. ?We learned about pets and taking care of them.?
?It's better than doing math from a book,? Yunus said.
You can reach Ann Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .