Bloom-Vernon Elementary students and staff battled it out in February, in which they fought at grade levels to raise the most money through a penny war. In fact, students worked so hard that they were finding new and creative ways to earn money just to donate.
According to Principal Sandy Smith, “When walking the hallways during the battle each morning, you may see a student playing his guitar with his case open for people to drop money in the case for the war, a saxophone player, face paintings, teachers selling homework passes, students selling jewelry, an assembly line of students making more jewelry so they wouldn’t run out, and kids selling cupcakes or donuts. Gatorade was sold, as well as snow cones. One grade level auctioned off a ‘secretary of the day’. Some students created and sold their own artwork. One grade level sold foul shots. If you made it, you got money, if you didn’t, you lost your money to the war.”
So, why were the students going to war with such ferocity? Well, that would be because of their shared mission of raising money to benefit fellow fifth grade student, Bella Miller.
Near the end of January, Bella was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. Bella and her sister, Lydia, live with their grandmother.
The penny war broke out to help Bella fight her battle, to show Bella how much support she has, and to help defray some of the costs associated with travel and expenses related to her medical condition.
There were very specific rules about how the war games would be carried out.
Teams formed by grade level. Each grade level competed against the others to help raise money. Each penny and dollar bill counted as positive points. Each piece of silver was ‘knock out’ money.
For example, if a person put a dollar bill in the first-grade bucket, that would count as 100 points for that grade level. However, if someone put four quarters in their knockout bucket, that would erase the points the dollar bill had added, taking away 100 points. Each grade level had 2 buckets, one for pennies and dollar bills for positive points, and one for silver coins or knock-out points.
The penny war was a huge hit. As soon as students arrived at school, the battle began. It was an all-out war from 8:15-8:45 each morning, according to Smith.
“The amount of excitement and energy that filled the air was surreal,” Smith said.
Even Superintendent Marc Kreischer was thrilled and surprised by the outcome.
“It was crazy awesome over there! No other way to describe it,” Kreisher said.
Partnering with the school district was Atomic Credit Union. Each morning, when the buckets were collected, they were delivered to the credit union where all the money was counted using their coin-counting machines.
As soon as the money was counted and points were given, or taken off, the top three places were announced. Naturally, the teams with the most points became the target of the next day’s attack.
The battle became well-known in the community, too, with people jumping on social media and praising efforts and donating themselves.
“Folks started sending money via Venmo, Paypal, and the like,” Smith said. “Donations came pouring in from Texas, Arizona, New Jersey, Colorado, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, and all over Ohio.
At the end of day four, a total of $17, 884.39 was collected.
“This seemed unbelievable,” Smith said. “However, the most unbelievable things happened on Friday. Community people were dropping off money, and sending money in through electronic forms. A magician appeared and waved a magic wand and turned Bella Bucks into real money. The $17,884.39 turned into $30,440.25, like magic!”
During the celebration, at the end of the penny war, Bloom-Vernon Elementary third grade cancer survivor, Emma Pfankuch, provided a message of hope and survival to our students and staff. Emma ended her story of hope by singing “Roar” by Katy Perry to the packed gymnasium. Bella and her grandma were on facetime during the celebration.
Also building excitement for the students was the prospect of making a big chance Bloom-Vernon’s Mr. Howe.
“The team who earned the most positive points got to pick what colors they wanted Mr. Howe to color his beard. They also got to duct tape Mrs. Smith to the wall.
Still, the endeavor to raise funding for a friend took principle over taping the principal
“Interestingly, as soon as the total amount was announced, $30,440.25, everyone forgot that there was a winner,” Smith said. “Bella Miller was the winner and nothing else mattered. Even on social media, it was a while after the amount was announced that someone asked, ‘by the way, what grade level won?’”
The winning grade level was second grade. Bella’s sister, Lydia, is a second grader.
“We will continue to support and love Lydia through this battle,” Smith claimed.
On Monday, following the penny war, a first grader asked Smith what the number is on the check. Smith read the number to the student, $30,440.25. The student stood there for a minute then asked, “What would that number be if you added $2.00 to it?
Mrs. Smith replied, “Then it would be $30,442.25.”
The first grader handed Smith $2.00, and said, “then you need to change it.”
So, the fake check displayed at the school now reads, $30,442.25.
“Bella and her family have a long battle ahead of them and desire the thoughts and prayers of others,” Smith said. “Bella and her family are the most thankful individuals I’ve ever met. On behalf of the family, I’d like to thank everyone, far and near, who has shown Bella support.”
According to Smith, all donations that are collected for Bella are deposited into an account at Atomic Credit Union in Bella’s name. The community may continue to donate to the fund. All money will go towards expenses related to costs associated with Bella’s care, travel, and related expenses.
Any money that is left after her extensive treatment will be put into a scholarship in Bella’s name for her to use when she graduates from high school. Anyone wishing to make a donation can do so at any Atomic Credit Union, in the account of ‘Benefit for Bella Miller.
Reach Joseph Pratt at (740) 353-3101, by email at [email protected], © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved