Gripped by an urge to rock

Charity: Pupils at an Ellicott City middle school have devised an innovative fund-raiser -- and have donated about $40,000 to nonprofit groups over the years.

February 27, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Oddly enough, the most eye-catching sight wasn't pupils in rocking chairs clogging Burleigh Manor Middle School's main hallway -- during class, no less.

More compelling was the huge hand-made cow hanging like a canopy over one of the rocking chairs. Or the cardboard-box castle surrounding another. Or the elaborate scene of a frog pond -- complete with mist and croaking -- around another.

Pupils throw themselves into the Ellicott City school's annual anti-smoking fund-raiser -- and it's not just the theme that makes this event unusual.

Except for funds to cover expenses and prizes for participants, all the money pupils collect goes to the American Lung Association. Grand total over the past six years: $25,000.

Last year, the school donated $8,000, making it a "sponsor" -- the association's second-highest donors' tier, for those who give $5,000 to $10,000.

That puts Burleigh Manor in the same league as Comcast Cablevision and the Law Offices of Peter Angelos.

Health teacher Barbara Mongello, who has coordinated the "rock-a-thon" from its inception, gets a kick out of that.

"It's pretty funny," she said. "They have all these big companies, and then there's little Burleigh Manor Middle School stuck in there."

Said Geannine Hladky , director of financial development with the American Lung Association of Maryland: "It's more than we get from any other school. They're phenomenal. They are definitely one of our most loyal and annual supporters."

Eight thousand dollars is a large sum for a middle school to donate to charity, said Ted Hart, president of the Maryland chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives. But charity efforts among young people are catching on nationally, he said.

"Children are growing in appreciation of philanthropy, so we are seeing more and more children getting involved and feeling they can make a difference," said Hart, a certified fund-raising executive.

Burleigh Manor pupils conceived of the rock-a-thon because every classroom in the school has a rocking chair, courtesy of its first principal.

Pupils have raised about $40,000 since the first event. Initially, donations were split among several nonprofit organizations. Pupils decided to give all the money to the lung association several years ago after the death of Irene Watkins, a Burleigh Manor secretary and a lung transplant recipient.

Watkins wasn't a smoker, Mongello said. But the message behind the rock-a-thon -- despite the humorous theme -- is that smoking can indeed kill.

Some pupils didn't sugarcoat that message when they decorated their rocking chairs.

Hence the "electric chair," covered with tinfoil. Or the ambulance chair. Or the rocking chair that seats a skeleton, its teeth locked around a cigarette.

The pupils devised these ideas and wrote appropriate anti-smoking slogans to accompany the chairs. Mongello hopes they will have an impact.

"This is when kids start smoking -- in middle school," she said. "If you can get them thinking twice now . Every little bit helps."

Opposed to smoking

On Friday, as children took turns rocking in the chairs, many said they've decided never to smoke.

Some simply don't like the idea. Others have lost relatives to lung cancer, heart attacks or other diseases brought on by years of smoking.

Casey Rossberg, 12, saw both her grandfathers succumb to lung cancer.

"When they were both sick, they said `never smoke' -- that they made the mistake of doing that," she said, rocking in the cow-themed chair resting on straw (motto: "Holy Cow! Smoking is Udderly Ridiculous!").

Andrew Behringer, 13, rocked below the slogan, "Smoking is like a box of chocolates -- you never know what you're gonna get!" He believes it, and said nothing could persuade him to start smoking.

He's seen photographs of smokers' lungs. "I just think it's really stupid," Andrew said.

`Controls your life'

Down the hall, near the cardboard ambulance built around one rocking chair, pupils took turns playing the role of an emphysema patient.

Thirteen-year-old Mandy Clark sat on the cot for one class period and recalled that one of her grandfathers had died of lung cancer. And that she tried cigarettes because she felt pressured.

But she stopped. And she hopes others don't start. "I didn't like it," Mandy said. "It's not a good idea if you want to achieve stuff in your future. Once you get addicted, it controls your life."

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