"Do girls even like Spongebob?"
Second-grader Jude Taylor held up a pink shirt with the cartoon character’s image across the front as his classmate Jake Tatom looked at him and shrugged his shoulders.
The boys were in uncharted territory — the girls’ clothes section at Wal-Mart. They were picking out gifts, not for a sibling or even a schoolyard crush, but for a girl they had never met.
Jake and Jude are two of Kiann Robinson’s students at Woodrow Cummins Elementary. Every year Robinson picks out a project to help her students give back — a canned food drive, a toy drive — and this year the class voted to adopt a child from an Angel Tree.
The class talked about the plan on Nov. 18, and a day later they had raised $202.
"Our goal was to get enough for one angel," Robinson said.
But the students were not going to stop there. Parents said they came home every day talking about their current total. Carly Campbell gave her birthday money. Some students explained their project to neighbors, gathering donations from the community. After a visit from one of the students, one woman gave $100 to the cause.
"I don’t think I had one child who didn’t bring something," Robinson said. "They were just so gung-ho."
By Dec. 3 they had raised $792 and made a goal to hit $1,000 by their quickly-approaching deadline at the end of that week.
When everything was said and done Dec. 10, the class of 7 and 8-year-olds had raised $1,066.15 — enough to support five "angels" from the Angel Tree.
Amid a sea of fellow holiday shoppers, several of Robinson’s students and their parents swarmed Wal-Mart on Dave Ward Drive Tuesday after school. The teacher had already organized lists of Angel Tree wishes, and the children did their best to interpret what the person represented by that slip of paper would want for Christmas.
Jake and Jude, for instance, pondered what a girl their age would want. They both have older sisters, and their moms helped out with specifics.
For a group of girls, deciding to purchase a Barbie doll was not difficult, but which Barbie doll to choose was up for debate.
With carts full of clothes, boots, socks, board games and toys, the group made their way to the front of the store. Spiderman pajamas, Sophia the First dolls and Monopoly piled onto the conveyor belt at the check-out station as kids and adults alike commented on their findings.
The adults held their breath as the cashier rang up the total for each group of gifts. The class had $200 to spend on each of their angels. Some groups stayed under and some went a little over, but after the last item was paid for, Robinson held up a fan of bills — they had come in $17 under budget.
Robinson said she was "really amazed" at how the children came through for the Angel Tree project.
During the fundraising time, she used the effort as a math problem. Students figured out how much they had raised and how much more they needed to bring in to meet their goals, keeping up the excitement while showing practical application of their lessons.
"I think it’s important to realize that it’s not just about the academics at school," she said. "We work on developing character."
Parents told her that in the past when they had sponsored a child as a family, sometimes the kids were not as involved. Something about setting and achieving the goal as a class made it more fun.
"I treat my classroom as a family," Robinson said. "When you give them a goal and a way to meet it, the sky’s the limit."
Salvation Army Conway Corps Captain Joanna Robinson said she was excited to hear that an elementary school class put so much effort into supporting angels.
"If a kid is buying for a kid, you know the angel is getting something they really want," she said. "I just think it’s so cool these school-age kids are going out and buying things for others. That tells me they’re learning that stuff at home."
In her 14 years with the Salvation Army, Captain Robinson said she has seen high school classrooms sponsor an angel, but seldom does she see elementary classes pick up a name. For one class to purchase gifts for five is something special.
"I don’t have words to explain it," she said. "The kids just blow me away."
Kiann Robinson plans to polish off the rest of the money with a trip to the dollar store, picking up coloring books and other trinkets to add to each angel’s bag of gifts. She will be dropping them off with the Salvation Army Thursday after school, and thoughts are already brewing about what the kids next big project could be.
(Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1212. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)