500,000 pennies and counting -- Arundel school raises math interest


For six months, the children of Benfield Elementary School scrounged for pennies. They dug the coins out of sofas, collected them on Lincoln's birthday, even had help from friends in Texas.

Yesterday, a Brink's Inc. armored truck carried about 500,000 pennies from the school to a local NationsBank branch.

The 3,418 pounds of coins will be counted so that the children will know how much they can spend on school improvements.

"We thought this was a neat idea to get kids excited about math. Math is a part of everyday life. It's almost like breathing," said Chan Rourk, chairwoman of the Math a Million Ways program.

"Our goal is that no kid who graduates from this school will ever look at an algebra teacher and say, 'Why do I have to learn this?' "

The students said the program has helped them have fun with math this year.

"I liked math the first day I walked in the school. It has lots of numbers in it," said Chase Kettler, a 7-year-old first-grader. "You take one number and add it to another. It's like a puzzle to try to figure out what the answer is."

The pupils also have had fun finding new sources for pennies. When their parents ran out, they asked neighbors to put pennies into plastic bags and leave them on the porch. When they cleaned out the neighborhood, they found help in Texas.

"One student's family had some connection to Texas malls, and they got the malls to donate pennies from the fountain," Mrs. Rourk said.

As the students collected the coins, they also planned how to spend the money.

"We had to imagine we were given a million dollars, and we had to figure out how to spend it," said Kevin Morrisey, a 10-year-old fifth-grader. "We cut pictures out from magazines, figured out how much the item cost and made the calculations about how much we'd spent."

The students are planning to be practical in their spending. They want to buy a soft sofa and beanbag chairs for a reading corner in the school library that will be built this summer. Administrators also want to hire an artist-in-residence to help students create a lasting piece of art to decorate the library.

Yesterday, former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and other speakers helped the students learn even more ways to use math.

"In baseball, we use numbers all the time," Mr. Johnson told the students. "We count how many outs, how many innings and how many strikes and balls."

He also taught the students how to calculate a player's earned run average.

"I thought it was really neat how he showed us to use math every day," said Meaghan MacIntire, a 10-year-old fourth-grader. "It was different than in school. He made it more interesting."

Mrs. Townsend told the students that "math is the language of power. If you can do math, everyone thinks you're really smart and important."

In a way, the day was the final sales pitch in attempting to convince the most stubborn pupils that math can be fun. In at least some cases, the deal was closed.

James DeBole, a 9-year-old third-grader, said he usually doesn't like math.

"Sometimes it can be kind of boring, but not today," he said. "Today is awesome."

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