In anticipation of the Nov. 2 Soles for Catholic Education walk to celebrate Catholic education, your Catholic Herald is running a series of articles on Catholic education in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Following is the third in the series.
Days after the Boston Marathon bombings, Tameka Smith’s sixth grade religion class at Blessed Savior Catholic School East Campus, Milwaukee, discussed helping others.
“As Christians it’s our responsibility to help others in need,” Barbara O’Donnell, principal, said.
The kids wanted to do something for the victims of the Boston Marathon and suggested selling T-shirts and bracelets and holding a bake sale.
After the religion class, a few of the students went to O’Donnell’s office to discuss possible fundraisers.
“They had come down and thrown some ideas out at me and I said we need to look at this as a business proposal,” O’Donnell said. “They went back as a class with their teacher and did a business proposal for me.”
Back in the classroom, they discussed their plans.
“One of my students said, ‘Hey, if they can’t finish the race, why don’t we finish the race?’” Smith said, adding the students held on to that idea of a “walk-a-thon.”
To convince their principal, Smith set up a video camera in a room next to hers and told her students to “speak from your heart.”
One by one, they each went in and talked about how they felt about what happened in Boston.
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A girl on the video was visibly disturbed by what happened. She looked into the camera with tears rolling down her cheeks.
“The tragedy in Boston,” she said as she wiped her tears. “How could this happen? It just came so fast, I don’t know what to think.”
One boy in the video had a message for the victims. He said, “Since you can’t finish the race, I’ll finish it for you.”
They named the fundraiser, “Finish the Race.”
Smith edited the video and the class presented it to O’Donnell.
“I was speechless,” O’Donnell said about viewing the video. “Some of those children really poured out their hearts when they were talking about what happened to the individuals in Boston. These are people they don’t even know.”
Having sold their idea to the principal, the 24 students went to work.
“They were very hands-on,” Smith said. “They communicated well with each other.”
Smith admitted she initially wasn’t sure how far the students could take their idea, and she added some of her colleagues were a bit skeptical as well.
“I said to them, ‘You have to at least give them a chance,’” Smith said.
The students kept working by going to each classroom in the school and informing the other students of their plans and they created pledge cards to tape to windows of the school. Eventually the money started to arrive.
“We have one sixth grade girl who raised $100 herself,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said the goal was to raise $5 for each of the 220 students at the school or $1,100. Many of the families don’t have much money to spare, she explained.
“Ninety-five percent of our student population is at or below the poverty level,” O’Donnell said. “We have one little girl that brings in change every day.”
While the events in Boston seemed hundreds of miles away, once they started, the students realized how close to home it was.
O’Donnell said a teacher at the Blessed Savior Catholic School West Campus ran the marathon along with her brother. After she finished, she turned around and met up with him at the finish line roughly 10 minutes before the explosions.
“Our kids did not know we had a teacher (present), found out about it a week (after starting),” O’Donnell said.
This motivated the students more and the project had a life of its own. The walk-a-thon was set for June 3 to kick off the last week of school.
One of the school parents works for Klement’s Sausage Company and arranged for some of the Klement’s Famous Racing Sausages, who run at every Milwaukee Brewer home game, to surprise the kids.
The simple route was mapped, consisting of one lap around the block, the equivalent of 7/10 of a mile.
The sixth grade students led the school in that first lap. With weeks of planning and excitement building to this moment, when they were finally given the word to start, the students took off, not unlike the runners in the Boston Marathon.
The kindergarteners held hands and walked.
All the students K3 through seventh grade completed that final mile for the victims of the bombing. Most students kept going.
“Some of them told me they’re going to run all 26 laps,” O’Donnell said with a laugh. “They told me they practiced this weekend.”
The students know how many laps it’ll take to equal the 26.3 miles; it was used during a math class. They learned how to organize, publicize and execute an event.
They also researched the organization to which they would donate their money, deciding on The One Fund Boston, which, according to its website, has raised almost $40 million for victims.
With their efforts, the Blessed Savior students added $969 to that total.