For a good cause, do the math

Waterloo Elementary students raise money for cystic fibrosis research

March 18, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the Sun

Justin Homassel, 8, a second-grader at Waterloo Elementary School, seemed perfectly comfortable taking the stage Friday and speaking in front of a school assembly.

"Thank you for everyone that's giving in money to support my cause," he said into the microphone.

His fellow students cheered.

Justin was born with cystic fibrosis, a disease that means, in his words, "there's mucus in my lungs, and it's hard to breathe."

His teacher, Meggen Vannostrand, said, "He has to take a special pill every day before he eats."

Justin gently corrected her. "Special pills," he said.

On Friday, for the second year in a row, the school held a math-a-thon to collect money for the Maryland chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Justin's mother, Laura Homassel, who was at the school to help with the day's activities, noted that 91 cents of every dollar donated goes to research.

For the math-a-thon, Waterloo students collected pledges, requesting an amount of money for every math problem they got right in a 15-minute test.

After Friday's assembly, the younger grades were given a 50-problem test with addition and subtraction problems, while older students had to do 100 problems that were more complex.

The deadline for students to collect promised pledges is March 28. Justin said his class has brought in nearly $500.

The math-a-thon idea began with Laura Homassel, who suggested it to Justin's first-grade teacher, Elaine Stengel.

"I asked her if she would be interested in doing something like this," said Homassel. "She was very enthusiastic from the start."

Stengel said the program fit in nicely with the school's character education lessons. "We decided it would be a great fundraiser," she said.

Before the math test began, all the students in the school gathered in the auditorium for a pep rally. Justin, his mother and nearly all of the teachers wore T-shirts that said "Team CF."

After Justin spoke, Stengel told the students, who were sitting on the floor, that that they had raised nearly $10,000 last year. "That's a lot of money for little kids like you to raise," she said. She noted that many students had donated their snack money or allowance to the cause.

She urged audience members to take their time and do well on the math test. "The more problems you get right, the more money you get to collect," she reminded them.

After the pep rally, fifth-graders painted an eight-ball on teacher Gavin West's head. It was their reward for doing well in math, he said.

But before that, West, a fifth-grade teacher, covered his bald head with a wizard hat as he led the assembly through a math-related magic trick.

West put a secret word in a folder and gave the closed folder to a student to hold. Then he called nine youngsters to the stage and asked them to do a complicated math problem, writing the answers on a dry-erase board as they went.

The students then were asked to take a paperback dictionary from under their chairs, turn to the page that was the first three digits of the answer, then go down the page the number of words that corresponded to the final digit.

He asked each participant one at a time to say the word. They all said the same thing: addition. It was, of course, the word in the envelope.

"Friends, please remember that math is magic, and we have a magical day," he said. "We have a chance to turn CF into `cure found.'"

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