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Students raise big bucks for cancer research

Lee Street Elementary School students recently raised enough money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's "Pennies for Patients" program to fund more than a week's worth of research on blood cancers, according to an official with the society.

Lee Street officials announced on Wednesday that the approximately 600-student school raised $1,518.75 for the cancer research group. The money was collected during a one-week fund-raising campaign last month. The school's goal had been to raise $1,000 for the program, according to Roger Desjardins, the school's fund-raising chairperson. He is also a special education paraprofessional at the school.

During a special television broadcast from the school's news team, to every Lee Street classroom, school officials presented a large ceremonial check to Monica Morse, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's school and youth campaign cultivator. "Our students are very exceptional," Desjardins told Morse during the broadcast. "They opened their hearts and their piggy banks to bring money to your organization."

Morse said the "Pennies for Patients" program is a "service-learning project" that begins with students learning about how blood works, and what happens to a person when he, or she, gets a "blood cancer," such as Leukemia or Lymphoma.

It is followed a brief fund-raising period, in which the students raise money for the society's research and patient-services efforts, she added.

After the check presentation, Morse explained that Lee Street students not only exceeded the school's own fund-raising goal, but also the average amount of money raised schools in Georgia, and across the nation.

Morse said the state average is approximately $1,000 per participating school. She said approximately 700 schools in Georgia participate in the program.

Nationally, she said, the average amount of money raised at a school is $1.60 per student. Lee Street students raised more than $2 per student, she added.

Morse said Lee Street's contribution to the "Pennies for Patients" campaign should make a noticeable difference for cancer research. "A thousand dollars will actually support a research grant, and a researcher for one week," Morse said. "So, that's kind of an easy answer of ‘Hey, you could pay someone at Emory [University]' — and we have people at Emory — ‘for a week and a half with the money you raised.'"

Lee Street Principal Zakaria Watson said he was extremely proud of the amount of money students contributed. He said students "robbed their piggy banks" and skipped buying ice cream during lunch, so they could donate.

"We really promote being kind and respectful, and caring for others," he said. "And, it ... showed in the way the students ... anted up and came up with their small sums of money, and put them together, to help people that are a bit less fortunate than they are."

Desjardins said the school offered students the opportunity to wear jeans to school, if they gave $1 to the campaign. He added that they also got the opportunity to untuck their shirt, if they gave another $1. That only generated about $150, however. The bulk of the money came from students contributing to class-level fund-raising efforts, he said.

He said the top three fund-raising classes raised totals of $198, $125 and $108. Third-grade teacher, Bree Rawls, whose class raised the most money, said she began the fund-raising effort telling her students about her grandmother, who died from lymphoma.

"It kind of made it more tangible for the kids, and they understand it does happen to people that you are close to, and sometimes, unfortunately, it is the kids," Rawls said. "I just kind of re-iterated to them that it's very important for us to give back, and not just take."

One of Rawls' students, Samantha Lowe, 9, said the effort was "like a really big deal" to the students in her class. She said she and her classmates gave the money in memory of Rawls' grandmother. "We knew how important it was to her, so we just knew if we raised a lot of money, we could maybe find a cure for cancer," Lowe said.

Kindergarten teacher, Princess Wooten, whose class raised the second-highest amount, said she talked to her students about the importance of giving money to help people, who may themselves be children, deal with cancer. "They were really enthusiastic about bringing in that money," she said.

One of Wooten's kindergarten students, Benjamin Peters, 6, said he and his classmates wanted to do something to help people. "It's for people, who don't have any money, that are sick," he said.

The third-highest amount of money raised for "Pennies for Patients" came from the third-grade class taught Karla Hollis.