“Pennies, Peace, Pies,” you could hear the students at John J. Lukancic Middle School cheering at their spring break assembly last month. Lukancic Middle School is located about 35 miles southwest of Chicago. The students are diverse, and come from multiple neighborhoods surrounding the school. “Our school and district supports students in learning, sharing, and celebrating our differences,” said Allison Kucharski, family and consumer science teacher. In her classes, Ms. Kucharski teaches students life skills such as money management, cooking, and nutrition, and techniques to prepare students for a career after high school. Due to the nature of her classes, Ms. Kucharski’s teaching style is very hands-on and she stresses the importance of keeping students interested and involved every day.
Spring break was coming up quickly. To keep students engaged, Ms. Kucharski launched the Pennies for Peace service-learning program. She wanted to help them understand the importance of education – here in the United States and globally. “I knew that Pennies for Peace provides opportunities for students, especially girls, to receive an education; but what I did not realize is that they provide much more than education. They provide students a safe place to attend school with their peers, and a sense of purpose and belonging within the school setting,” said Ms. Kucharski.
Pennies for Peace offers a free K-12 curriculum and toolkit to teach students the importance of why they’re collecting pennies. “I focused mostly on the “More alike than Unalike” and “Power of a Penny” lessons. The lessons were very easy to follow. My students were engaged from the beginning and we had meaningful conversations about each topic. The lessons can be used in many different ways, and I could incorporate my district’s key curriculum standards,” said Ms. Kucharski.
Two of Ms. Kucharski’s classes, totaling fifty students, participated in Pennies for Peace this spring. “It was inspiring to see how much the students took ownership of the program. They really felt a connection to the students in the videos and genuinely wanted to make a difference for those children. I believe my students started to understand how important their education is and how fortunate they are to have a school, teachers, and community that supports their education on a daily basis.”
I asked Ms. Kucharski what her students found most appealing about the program, and she mentioned the concept of the penny. “My students liked explaining the concept of the “Power of a Penny” to other students at our school. They were empowered by the idea that they could help students in Central Asia by donating their change.”
And Ms. Kucharski’s students inspired other teachers to join in on the fun. Several teachers at Lukancic Middle School agreed to put a penny jar in their classroom. At the end of the weeklong campaign, each class that filled their teacher’s jar got to throw a pie in the teacher’s face! By the end of the week, eleven teachers had full containers of pennies – which meant that eleven teachers got a pie in the face at the spring break assembly. You could hear the students chanting “Pennies, Peace, Pies,” all afternoon. This fun activity raised $500 dollars.
“I would tell another teacher that the curriculum is super easy to use. By incorporating the videos and the pictures, students are quickly engaged and interested in the topic. And your students will surprise you with how much empathy and dedication they develop from this program in a short amount of time.” said Ms. Kucharski.