Pennies for Patients counts coins at Shaw Road Elementary

Puyallup: March Gladness event is both a math lesson and cancer awareness project

of the HeraldMarch 19, 2014 

Mary Baker’s 28 second-grade students practically sang in harmony as they recited how much money they brought in for their classroom’s Pennies for Patients drive.

It was $190.67, more than twice the Shaw Road Elementary School class’ $60 goal for the two-week drive.

“We got so much more money, and that’s because of your hard work,” Baker said as she praised her students.

As part of a math lesson, Baker led her students through an equation to figure out the difference. Before the big tally, several others came forward with coins and cash.

Baker helped the students count the earnings to teach them about place value, decimal points and dollar signs.

“In March and April, we start a lesson on coins, place value and double-digit addition,” she said. “All these skills are coming together.”

Baker’s classroom is included in a school-wide Pennies for Patients drive to support people who are battling cancer. Each classroom has a goal of $60, and it comes out to about $2 per student.

The drive is one of more than 70 service projects during March Gladness, a Puyallup School District-wide program that runs from January through the end of March. It provides charity opportunities to students K-12. It’s a student-driven model, with logistical support from Communities in Schools of Puyallup.

Last year, more than 13,000 students participated in March Gladness on projects such as food drives, penny drives and beautification projects.

Jan Mauk, executive director of Communities in Schools of Puyallup, said finding a service project for which elementary-age students can participate can sometimes be challenging.

“(The Pennies for Patients Drive) is an example of making it an academic lesson but also learning about the needs of others,” Mauk said. “One component of community service is opening students’ eyes to the needs of others.”

Rose Spagnolo, 7, a student in Baker’s class, understands the value and purpose behind raising money for cancer research.

“I like it because it can help people with cancer,” she said. “My great-grandpa died of cancer.”

Spagnolo brought in 88 cents on Thursday. She added it on the white board to the grand total and had to complete double-digit addition.

Baker had other students write down the equation on their personal white boards, and she roamed the classroom to see how students were doing.

“This is so exciting, collecting all this money for cancer research,” Baker told her class with glee.

The cause also hits home for Baker, who lost her brother to testicular cancer when he was 22. She and her brother were only a year apart.

Robin Suther and her first-grade classroom is next door to Baker. Suther’s sister is battling brain cancer at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

Suther also is the team captain of Shaw Road Elementary School’s Relay for Life team. She is coordinating the Pennies for Patients drive at Shaw Road and said all the money raised will go through the relay team and toward the American Cancer Society.

“I look at this as raising awareness and giving empathy to those with cancer,” Suther said.

She also hopes the money will play a part in advancing cancer research and treatment.

More online

To learn more about the school district-wide program, visit

Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.

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