A first-class project

BROCTON – Every year, Kristen Zappie has her first-grade class focus on one major civics project. Past projects have included raising money for Lake Shore Humane Society, donating to Brooks Memorial Hospital maternity nurses, sending more than 500 pounds of supplies to Haiti, and purchasing phone cards to send to medics stationed in Iraq.

“Around the holidays, we are bombarded with advertisements to buy, buy, buy,” Zappie said. “That’s why it is so important to get children to focus on doing things for others and finding the joy of giving.”

First graders this year chose to contribute to and learn about Centaur Stride Inc., a non-profit agency that provides therapy through horseback riding for children who have suffered brain injuries.

The organization incorporates the entire family into the experience and allows siblings to ride.

Equestrian therapy helps with balance, strengthening muscles, gross motor skills, and other physical tasks. There are many ways that horses can assist those who are physically limited.

“If a child hurts or injures their brain, they forget how to do things,” first-grade student Mia Gorka said. “The therapy horses help them re-remember what to do with their bodies.”

During the two-week project, named “Quarter Horse Champions,” the class made a short film about brain injuries, what Centaur Stride does, and how other students could help. Their goal was to raise $500, the cost of caring for one horse for about six months.

Students brought in quarters and dollars. They wrote their names on a paper horse or horseshoe when they did.

“It was awesome,” first grader Jarek Negron said. “We got to show the movie to the whole entire school. Everybody started bringing in quarters and dollars to help the horses.”

Emily Holmes, another student, said, “The first day, we raised $66.75. Mrs. Boettcher (a kindergarten teacher at Brocton) gave us $10 as our first money.”

Pizza Hut and Little Caesars agreed to provide pizza to all elementary students if they met their goal.

“As soon as they heard about what we were doing, they jumped right on board,” Zappie said. “The students in my class were so impressed that they would be willing to donate so much pizza. It was a great example of how one good deed inspires another.”

“All the kids were glad about the pizza party, but they mostly didn’t even care if they got nothing. They just wanted to help raise money,” first grader Colten McDaniels added.

Second grader Hunter Cole was very enthusiastic about the project. After he talked to his family about it, his mother decided to get involved. She persuaded her co-workers at Fairpoint Communications to support this cause as well. The employees donated money so they could wear jeans for dress down days in December. Fairpoint contributed over $300.

“I call him Hunter the Hero, because if he hadn’t talked about it with his family, Fairpoint Communica-tions would never have known and we wouldn’t have reached our goal, let alone surpass it,” Zappie said.

Recently the students enjoyed a reception in their classroom before showing their film to the board of education. Tractor Supply donated horseshoes which were presented to each student by Board of Education President Thomas DeJoe. Each horseshoe was en-graved with the student’s name and accompanied by a certificate of accomplishment.

“When I was a student at Brocton, our Shakespeare teacher Jane Dickerson read to us one of his works about how one single candle casts a far beam. That’s what I want these children to realize – that one person can make a difference; that they can inspire change. They are important,” Zappie concluded.