Copper Mesa, Summit View supply Marines with Toys for Tots
HIGHLANDS RANCH – “Hello Copper Mesa, it’s Frank. Thank you for all the toys so far. Monday is the last day. Our goal is 250, so we need 30 more toys. Thank you all.”
The voice echoed over the intercom through the Copper Mesa Elementary classrooms and halls, spurring students to dig deep to meet their goal of donating 250 toys to the U.S. Marines Toys for Tots program.
This isn’t a regular toy drive at Copper Mesa. This project was initiated and led by the “Fern Gully” classroom, the endearing term given to the home of Copper Mesa’s severe and special needs (SSN) students.
“I felt it was cool that Fern Gully did it because they are not always a part of everything at the school and they took the lead,” said fifth-grader Brooklyn.
Her classmate, Brenner agreed, adding, “They don’t usually get to lead stuff. When we were told where to meet for the pizza party, no one knew where it (Fern Gully) was.”
The students of Fern Gully voted to undertake the special project to provide toys for kids in need through Toys for Tots. They made posters, took to the loudspeaker and peddled their excitement into each classroom to enlist school-wide support.
“One of our students gets very nervous in front of people, but her job was to stand in front of every class and enlist their support for the project,” said Copper Mesa SSN Aide Abby Drew. “At first, I held her hand, but after a few presentations, she no longer needed me in the room when she spoke.”
Copper Mesa SSN Teacher Michelle King (Mainridge), incorporated academic and therapeutic lessons into the toy drive. Students worked at home, doing chores for the $20 they needed to purchase toys at the local Walmart.
The students diligently sifted through catalog pictures of toys and prices, calculating the amount they would need for each purchase and carefully planning their shopping excursion.
“We used the project to write, design, communicate and collaborate. They learned about the system of money, how to earn it and spend it, and played store to help them practice shopping and paying at the counter,” stated King. “We even incorporated taxes into the totals, and taught them what taxes are and how they are used.”
Students sorted, graphed and estimated in inconspicuous math lessons. They wrote about the toys they would purchase and their individual jobs in concealed writing lessons:
“I hang posters around the school.” – Lydia
“I vacuum for Toys for Tots. I counted the toys” – Jace
“I put spoons in the sink and throw away plates.” – Frank
The job of counting was especially remarkable for second-grader Jace Rauscher. He spent 30 minutes counting the 305 toys with his teacher. It was an extraordinary accomplishment for the nonverbal student who uses a digital communication tool to express words and thoughts.
The excitement of leading the school in the massive outreach consumed all of the students in Copper Mesa’s Fern Gully. Daily conversations at home overflowed with details of the project. Their newly acquired sense of leadership and empowerment provided an experience many of the students in Fern Gully had never known.
And the therapeutic value of the project was powerful.
“To keep something in memory is very challenging for most of these kids. We wanted to make sure it was something they could retain,” explained King. “And for our kids on the spectrum, having them communicate how they feel about buying toys and helping others was another challenging goal we reached through this project.”
The Fern Gully students traveled to Lakewood and were met by Marines outfitted in their crisp dress blues. As they unloaded carefully categorized boxes of books, stuffed animals, action figures and other toys, the students were offered a hand by an older, bearded gentleman dressed in a large red, fur-lined suit and black boots.
“I like to see Santa Claus,” said fifth-grader Lydia.
“Most kids are told to give away what they don’t want, but this is about giving away new, nice toys to someone who needs it more,” said Michael Stonehouse, father to Copper Mesa SSN student Davey Stonehouse, and a former Marine, who took the kids to the Toys for Tots drop off point. “It was awesome. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Back at school the next day, students in classrooms throughout Copper Mesa waited with unbridled anticipation for the morning announcement over the loudspeaker. The voice over the intercom was the now-familiar voice of a classmate, friend and leader. As the announcement streamed into every tension-filled Copper Mesa classroom, Miss Beard’s fifth-grade class erupted in screams of joy.
“Hello Copper Mesa, it’s Frank. With 98 toys, Miss Beard’s class won. Thank you all.”