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Bentonville kindergartners make necklaces to raise money for families

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BENTONVILLE -- A lesson in economics doubles as a lesson in compassion when the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School kindergartners do their jingle bell necklace project each year.

About 100 elves -- er, kindergartners -- produced the necklaces in class last week. Each necklace is anchored by a ball ornament with beads and jingle bells strung together on both sides.

School demographics

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School’s 553 students live in central and north Bentonville and west Bella Vista. About 26 percent of Jefferson students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, slightly above the Bentonville School District’s rate of 24 percent. Eligibility for federally subsidized meals is a gauge of poverty in schools and districts.

Source: Bentonville School District

NWA Democrat-Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Kindergarten students Analie Dryer (left) and Kendall Langley work Friday on making jingle bell necklaces in Cristi...

NWA Democrat-Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Jingle bell necklaces were made in Cristine Eubanks' kindergarten class at Thomas Jefferson Elementary in Bentonvil...

The necklaces went on sale Monday inside the school for $1 each. The money raised buys clothes and toys for families at the school who need a little help during the holidays. Last year's necklace sales provided almost $900 that benefited five families, said Cristine Eubanks, one of five Jefferson kindergarten teachers.

"We're hoping we can make at least what we made last year," Eubanks said.

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About $300 in sales had been made as of Wednesday morning. The necklaces likely will remain available for purchase through Friday. Eubanks said she's hoping for brisk sales at the school's "Cookies with Santa" event from 5-7 p.m. today.

The project, now in its third year, is part of an economics unit at the kindergarten level.

"We've been talking about wants and needs and understanding the difference between the two, and explaining that in order to get the things that you need, you have to be able to trade or you have to have money that you earn," Eubanks said.

But some families don't have enough money to purchase necessities like clothes and food. "So we can do something nice and help people," she said.

Kendall Langley, 6, a student in Eubanks' class, seemed to have absorbed the lesson.

"We're making (the necklaces) so kids in our school can get the things they need for Christmas," Kendall said.

She couldn't say how many necklaces she'd made, but she knew she wanted to buy at least one for her 9-year-old sister.

Diana Berry, Jefferson counselor, is the one who identifies the families. Her role allows her to get to know those who are most in need, either because they're low-income or are experiencing severe medical issues.

"You have a thumb on what's going on with all your families. Sometimes I go to them and sometimes they come to me," she said.

Berry said she's sorry the kindergartners don't get to see how their work affects the families.

"I get to see all the smiles and tears and happiness it brings," she said.

Staff members and parent volunteers handle the task of selling the necklaces. On Wednesday morning, just before school started, dozens of children stopped by a table set up outside the main office to check out the necklaces and buy one or more of them.

The children came bearing cash in various forms. Some brought a few dollar bills. One student had a dollar coin. Another came with a baggie containing $3 in dimes.

Sue Bentel was a kindergarten teacher at Jefferson before switching to a librarian position this year. She traced the project's origins to a classroom discussion in 2015 of the Pilgrims' trip to America and what they needed to survive.

That led to discussion of what people today need to survive, how some people don't have enough food and what the school could do to help them. The school held a food drive and donated to a local food pantry.

The approach of the Christmas season led to further discussion of how some less fortunate families wouldn't be able to afford Christmas presents. The students expressed a desire to help them, Bentel wrote in an email.

"We posed the question 'How can we get things for them without asking our moms or dads to buy them for us?'" Bentel wrote.

The kindergarten teachers led students to the idea they could earn money by producing something others would like to buy. Teachers already had discussed among themselves items the kids could make with little assistance from adults.

"We came up with the idea of the necklaces after throwing several ideas back and forth with each other," Bentel wrote.

Teachers hoped to make between $100 and $150 that first year. They ended up making $700. Counting up the money provided students an amazing math lesson, according to Bentel.

All materials for the necklaces this year either were left over from last year or were donated by parents and staff members, Eubanks said.

NW News on 12/07/2017

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