Cheyenne students raise money for a new playground – in Mexico

Compassion in Schools’ Loretta Barker hands a certificate and a check to Sonny Hair, 9, and the rest of the Cole Elementary School Student Council Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, inside Cole Elementary in Cheyenne. The Cole Elementary Student Council, which consists of 12 total students, won the most recent Compassion in Schools Award for their continued kindness and volunteerism. (Photo by Michael Cummo, Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

CHEYENNE – The slide is Sienna Freeman’s favorite piece of equipment on the playground at Cole Elementary.

For Taylor Lewis, it’s the monkey bars.

Her classmate, Hailey Beka, likes to spend her free period on the basketball court.

But they all agree with Hailey that “it’s not fair that everyone doesn’t get a playground like we have.”

That’s why they joined with the other members of the school’s student council to raise money for a new playground at a school in Tijuana, Mexico. A few weeks ago, the students put a big clear jar in each classroom and encouraged their classmates to give what they could.

Nicholas Young donated one quarter and one penny.

“It’s what I could find,” said the sixth grader, who was motivated by a larger call to patriotism. “If we don’t help people in other countries, they won’t think America is that great.”

Other students brought in bigger collections of pocket change. By the end of the week, the student council had raised more than $180 for their kindred classmates in Mexico.

The members raised even more cash during the week of Valentine’s Day by crafting candygrams and selling them for 25 cents each. That amount has yet to be tallied.

Regardless of the total, the spirit of the student council’s fundraising initiative caught the eye of Compassionate Cheyenne, a local nonprofit that recently launched the Compassion-in-the-Schools Award.

“They could have raised money for a lot of things,” said Loretta Barker, who is a member of Compassionate Cheyenne and helped select the student council as this round’s winners.

When she presented the students with the award Wednesday, Barker said she was especially heartened by the fact that even though 70-year-old Cole Elementary is in documented need of a new building, “these students are raising money for a school in another country.”

The award comes with a certificate of recognition and a $100 check, which was donated by the Sunrise Rotary Club and RBC Wealth Management. That additional $100 that will go toward the playground fund.

The fundraiser is how Cole’s student council participated in this year’s Great Kindness Challenge, which is a campaign that challenges students to create a culture of kindness during the week of Jan. 27-31.

This is the second year Cole has participated in the kindness challenge. Last year, second-grade teacher Stacee Orcutt spearheaded a similar fundraising effort for a school in Liberia, but only raised $30.

“It’s good for our students to see that we can be generous and show kindness to students who are less fortunate,” said Orcutt, who wanted to make the fundraiser an annual event. “I was hoping we could at least beat that $30 goal – and we totally blew it away.”

She made it happen by presenting the idea to the student council, which made an announcement over the intercom each morning and collected the donations each afternoon.

“They are the leaders in our school,” said Cheryl Hite, who is a faculty adviser to the student council. She nominated them for the Compassion-in-the-Schools Award because “they are the ones who want to improve our school and have ideas on how to do it.”