East Palo Alto School Kids Dig Into Piggy Banks To Help Classmate With Cancer

One day this past winter, the mother of a kindergartner walked into Amika Guillaume's office at East Palo Alto's Cesar Chavez and Green Oaks Academy and asked the principal if she could hold a bake sale on the school grounds.

Amika had to say no.

"96 percent of our students are on free- or reduced-price lunches," Amika explains. "That means we are a Title I school and bake sales aren't allowed."

96 percent of the students at Cesar Chavez and Green Oaks Academy qualify for free, or reduced-price, lunches.

That, however, wasn't the only reason Amika thought the bake sale wouldn't work. "I know from experience that bake sales are only going to give you a hundred dollars. This mother needs more than that."

The little boy's mother needed more that that, Amika says, because she was trying to pay for her son's cancer treatments.


"He misses quite a bit of school," Amika says. "He's doing better, but still you will see him coming to the office saying he is sick and asking to go home."

Still, Amika had to tell the mother her request was denied.

Her timing, though, was perfect.

The motto at Cesar Chavez Academy is "Dream big. Work hard. Give back." It just so happens that each March (timed to coincide with Cesar Chavez's birthday) is when students at the school focus on giving back.

Each March, students at the school choose a worthy cause to "give back" to.

When it came time this year for the school's Student Council and Renaissance Clubs to pick the charity they wished to "give back" to, Amika told them about the young boy.

They decided on the spot he should be the recipient of whatever money they could raise.

But just how much money could a school, made up almost entirely of low-income students, expect to raise.

Pennies, was the answer.

It was a lot of pennies, though.

Every day in March, a pair of students walked from classroom to classroom carrying a plastic bucket, asking their classmates to give whatever they could.

Collecting mostly pennies, the student body was able to raise close to $2,000 to help a classmate with cancer.

Every day, students emptied their pockets and their piggy banks. Often, it was just a handful of pennies that student dropped into the bucket. Those pennies, however, added up.

By the end of the month, the students had raised close to $2,000 for the young boy.

"You should never underestimate the power of a penny," Amika says.

Making their accomplishment all the greater, Amika says, is that when the school's community partners heard about the fundraiser, they contributed heavily as well.

The final tally: more than $10,000.

"What I've learned is that when you step back and sow the seeds and just instigate a little bit of greatness in them, they will surprise you."

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