On Monday afternoon, one day before Reed Intermediate School would see the return of hundreds of students, four teachers sat together on benches in the front courtyard and recalled the previous year’s successes.
One that stood our for sixth grade teacher Lil Martenson was a series of events that began in the school and ended this summer in Liberia, with sight restored to 30 people.
Martenson introduced Valerie Pagano-Hepburn, another sixth grade teacher who has worked with students on a project based on the book, “The Pushcart Wars,” by Jean Merrill.
Pagano-Hepburn explained that for the last few years, students at Reed took the premise of the book, which takes place in New York City at a time when people bought most of their food and other goods from pushcarts, to create a similar activity within the school.
According to teacher Rich Neeb, some of the sixth grade students created pushcarts made of cardboard, with awnings or umbrellas, while others made items to sell such as duct tape wallets, jewelry, Father’s Day cards and more.
“It was the students from two clusters, about 100 kids. Everything they made cost one or two dollars,” said Petrice DiVanno, another sixth grade teacher.
On the Friday before Father’s Day last June, all of the students came to school and bought the goods made by the sixth graders. All told, they raised $2,600 for charities.
After the sale, the students donated the money to the following charities: Autism Speaks, Kevin’s Community Center, Relay For Life, Danbury’s Women’s Shelter, and Eye Care Liberia.
The last charity was chosen based on , who for several years held a pen pal project for Liberian refugee children and the children in her classroom. During that time, 2006 through 2008, King became deeply entrenched in efforts to support the reconstuction efforts of the Liberian people who had been so far from home for so many years. King's students raised $20,000 to help them return to their homeland, but all of their belongings had been left behind.
Their possessions abandoned, the refugees returned to an uprooted education system as well. Amidst her efforts to restore the classrooms, King was made aware of the need for an eye clinic. With the help of a Rotary International Global Grant awarded to Newtown Rotary and Sinkor Rotary, as well as gifts from generous individual donors, she was able to raise close to $100,000 dollars.
This summer the clinic became a reality. The New Sight Eye Center opened in Monrovia, Liberia, and King was able to attend. There, she met the 10 people who received the gift of their returned eye sight made possible by the funds raised by the children of Newtown.
“I always tell people, this whole thing started with 10-year-old kids,” King said.