The class or grade at each Seymour school collecting the most money through penny wars had a big decision to make.
They could choose to be rewarded by having a dance party with members of Seymour High School’s Riley Dance Marathon committee or having doughnuts delivered to them.
Becky Miller’s kindergarten class at Emerson Elementary School and Nikki Campbell’s first grade class at Cortland Elementary School were the only ones choosing the dance party.
On Dec. 2, committee members visited the schools to teach the kids part of the dance they learned during the six-hour Riley Dance Marathon on Nov. 20. At the end of each 30-minute visit, they all did some freestyle dancing.
Miller said it was an easy choice for her students.
“Did you see how much fun we just had?” she said. “Kindergarten, it’s a long day for them. A long time ago, we used to have half-days, so it’s a long day for them (going the full day), so we’re going to have some fun.”
When Emerson conducted its weeklong penny war, Miller read a book about helping others to her students and shared information about Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, which provides complex and acute care across every pediatric specialty known to medicine.
To encourage the kids to bring in donations, Miller told her kindergartners she would match their total. They wound up collecting nearly $300, so that meant $600 was given to the SHS fundraiser.
“I thought, ‘If they can do it, then I can help, too,’” Miller said. “They are just such a good group of kids, and they like to help others.”
Isabella Lopez-Utera said she took money out of her piggy bank at home to donate to the class’ penny war effort. She said it made her feel good to help the boys and girls who receive care at Riley, and it was fun to celebrate the successful fundraiser by dancing with the high school students.
In all, the Seymour elementary schools raised $6,764.20. Plus, Seymour Middle School raised $804.60 and Seymour High School brought in $1,901.40 through penny wars.
That all was a part of this year’s final fundraising total of $21,074.80 — exceeding the goal of $15,000.
The other fundraisers this year were selling fans and bracelets at graduation, seniors painting parking spots, passing canisters through the crowd at the Jackson Bowl football game, selling big cookies and St. Ambrose Catholic School having a jeans day.
It all culminated with SHS students asking for donations during the Riley Dance Marathon.
“We raised over $21,000 with all of your help,” Kelly Reasoner, a math teacher at SHS who serves as sponsor of the Riley Dance Marathon committee, told Miller’s students. “You guys were awesome. You did amazing. We just want to say ‘thank you.’”
Committee President Will Cottrill, Luke Reasoner, Carly Kaiser and Sami Foster taught the dance to the young students, and fellow committee members assisted.
Kaiser, a junior, came up with the idea of getting the elementary and middle school students involved in the fundraising.
In 2020, the in-person Riley Dance Marathon was canceled due to restrictions with the COVID-19 pandemic, but SHS still managed to raise around $4,000.
“We were trying to get a fresh start on it since we couldn’t do it last year,” Kaiser said. “We were open to new ideas, and we were brainstorming how to get the elementary schools more involved and get them more excited about penny wars from recent years.”
She emailed the counselors at each school, and they all were interested in participating.
The other elementary penny war winners were kindergarten at Margaret R. Brown, second grade at Seymour-Redding and fifth grade at Seymour-Jackson.
“This elementary penny wars was so big for our fundraiser,” senior Valeria Ramirez said.
“It just goes to show how Dance Marathon isn’t a high school event. It’s more of a community event, so it’s more involvement,” fellow senior Katie Deppen said.
Ramirez said it shows the young kids that once they get to high school, they can be a part of Riley Dance Marathon, too.
“Some of the freshmen didn’t know what Dance Marathon was and thought it was a dance,” Kaiser said. “We wanted to find different ways to promote it and different ways to spread the word. That’s why we wanted to involve the middle school because them coming into freshman year knowing what Dance Marathon is, they will be more involved in the program and spread the word.”
The SHS students were glad to see two of the elementaries choose a dance party as their reward.
Deppen said she didn’t expect the kids to pick up the dance moves as fast as they did.
“I feel like I’m just a kid myself, so it just brought out my inner innocence,” she said, smiling. “I liked the hugs, too.”
Ramirez said the experience made her feel like the kids were looking up to them. Kaiser said it was nice to hear Miller call them role models.
“We hear it all the time, ‘There are always little kids watching’ or ‘There’s always someone watching you,’ but being able to experience that, I think it just has a different effect to the meaning of everyone saying that and you actually get to see it in action,” Kaiser said.
“It definitely gives us reassurance that we’re actually making an impact in little people’s lives, affecting the future generations,” Deppen added.
Arriving back in the classroom, Miller told her students how proud she was of them. She noted seeing one of the high school students crying tears of joy after dancing with the kids.
“It made my day,” Miller said. “I’m going to have a great day because of that.”