By Randy Rendfeld
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — During this Christmas break, Valley Grove School Principal Jan Koeniger planned to fill up her car with pencils, notebooks and other school supplies. She'll drive them to the Tippecanoe School Corp. near Lafayette.
The school system's Mintonye and Southwestern schools were damaged when tornadoes touched down on Nov. 17. About 900 students needed to move to temporary classrooms elsewhere.
Koeniger will also be carrying a check for $300 from the Valley Grove fifth grade to the Tippecanoe School Corp. students.
When Valley Grove students returned to school after the Thanksgiving break, the three fifth-grade classes began collecting school supplies for the displaced Tippecanoe students. They called it the Tippecanoe Tornado Disaster Relief.
"They faxed us a list of the items they were in need of," said Valley Grove fifth-grade teacher Traci Gossett. "We passed the word along to our students and teachers. And our students have been bringing in items ever since."
In addition to Gossett's class, the fifth-grade classrooms of teachers Heather Barrow and Beth French also helped pitch in and organize the relief effort. "Everybody in the school has brought in items and donated supplies," Gossett said.
Before the Christmas break, a table had been set up at Valley Grove Elementary School to hold donated items. A sign above it read: "Our school helping another school rebuild, one pencil, one notebook at a time."
"They wanted basic school supplies," Gossett said. "They needed rulers, paper, folders, markers, pencils — office supplies that a teacher or student would need."
Koeniger said she was proud of the fifth-graders and teachers for coming up with the tornado relief idea.
"As educators I think they realize how devastated they'd be if this happened to our building," Koeniger said. "You walk into your school and you don't have simple things that you take for granted. And for them to come up with this and spearhead it, I think it's great."
In the past, Valley Grove has had many other charity drives. For example in the school hallway a box of pop can tabs impresses passers-by. However, Koeniger said students and their families have collected many more pop cans tabs than could fill the box — a total of nearly 9 million tabs to benefit the Ronald McDonald House, which assists families of sick children.
"Valley Grove is a very giving school, as most schools are," Koeniger said. "And a lot of kids here that are in need are among the first kids who bring stuff. That means they understand the concept of caring and responsibility — the pillars of character that we try to instill in them."
Fifth-grader Maiquasja Pearson, 10, said she hoped that Tippecanoe students found the Valley Grove students' offerings to be a nice gesture.
Fifth-grader Michael Chappell, 12, said he was proud and happy that he and his classmates helped out.
Asked what lesson fifth-graders might learn from this relief effort, Gossett said, "I hope they get that one school is helping another school."