More than 600 students were expected to line the driveway of St. William the Abbot School in Seaford on Wednesday morning, passing boxes packed with 6,500 envelopes, to Seaford Postmaster Richard Most and Walter Barton, president of the Long Island chapter of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
Loren Dempsey, the parent who coordinated the human mail chain, said that those envelopes contain everything from crayon drawings adorned with stickers from kindergartners to heartfelt, personal letters from seventh- and eighth-graders explaining how their SWS education has enriched their lives.
Each note and work of art has one thing in common, Dempsey said: It is addressed to an SWS student’s relative, family friend or a business owner, asking him or her to donate to the Race for Education.
For the first time in five years and the fourth time in school history, SWS is hosting a Race for Education-style fundraiser. The program, created in 1984 by a former principal from Pennsylvania named Jim Cole, calls for students to seek sponsors for a jog-a-thon, raising “a significant amount of funding for a school’s critical educational needs,” according to the Race for Education website.
Dempsey, a Massapequa resident whose sons, Ryan, Brendan and Aidan, are all graduates of or students of the Catholic school, coordinated the first SWS Race for Education in 2006. She said that the community quickly rallied behind the cause, raising enough money to purchase 43 computers. In subsequent fundraisers, SWS families and supporters have funded the purchase of Smart boards, 66 iPads and 43 more computers.
The most recent SWS Race for Education was held in 2012. Corporate sponsors and residents of the 16 communities that SWS draws from — many from Seaford, Wantagh, Massapequa and Massapequa Park, as well as Amityville, Bellmore, Bethpage, Copiague, East Meadow, Farmingdale, Freeport, Levittown, Lindenhurst, Melville, Merrick and West Babylon — and countries around the globe donated more than $100,000 to the campaign. Dempsey said she was amazed that more than 80 percent of that money was raised through small donations, averaging $18, from thousands of people.
The SWS Race for Education is only held once every three to five years, Dempsey explained, because of its size and scale. “The students are also rarely, if ever, asking their family members to sponsor them for something,” she added. “We want to make it special without diluting the message.”
Once again, SWS officials hope to enhance technological resources through the fundraiser. Dempsey said that their goal is to update current mobile devices and expand the school’s “1:1 initiative” by buying enough iPads for children in grades three, four and five and Google Chromebooks for students in grades six, seven and eight.
Elizabeth Bricker, the school’s principal, said that technology is integral to the education of SWS students. She said that it is one of only about 150 schools in New York using computer-based testing for the English Language Arts and mathematics state assessments for fourth and sixth graders.
Roberta Ryan, the school’s director of technology, works closely with classroom teachers to integrate digital programs and supplements into lessons. The mobile devices that administrators hope to purchase with Race for Education funds would allow more students to take those lessons outside the building, Bricker said, because children would be allowed to bring them home to work on projects.
“This way, anything they’re working on at school extends wherever they go,” she explained. “This is a marketplace where they are going to have to use technology, know it and be comfortable with it. We are preparing the future leaders of our local communities.”
James Cantanno, president of the school board, said that fundraisers for “big-ticket items” are critical to parochial and private schools because they do not receive the financial support from the state government that public schools do. He added that the generosity of SWS families and supporters — who he said understand how special the school community is — has allowed for the purchase of devices that will help students compete and thrive in 21st century academic and professional environments.
“It keeps kids up to date with the public sector,” Cantanno said. “It never ceases to amaze me how special the children are here. They’re just good kids, and that comes from the community concept that’s perpetuated by the school, teachers and these types of events. St. William’s changes lives.”
The Race for Education officially began at an I love St. William School rally on Feb. 14. At the event, Dempsey said, a student committee, made up largely of seventh-graders, presented the initiative to their peers with videos and slideshows that they created. Teachers then gave students in every grade packets with more information to take home to their parents, and gave lessons focused on letter writing. On April 5, students wrote their notes to potential sponsors. Dempsey said that, as they do at school masses, older students helped children in the lower grades with the project.
Children of all ages will gather once again at the Race for Education culminating celebration, a jog-a-thon on May 18. Before and after the event, Dempsey said, children receive letters back from the sponsors. “This is for technology, but in the end it becomes very old-fashioned,” she said when describing the correspondence.
The students who raise the most money will have the chance to soak Bricker in a dunk tank at the end-of-the-year barbecue in June. The principal recalled her students’ loud gasps when the incentive was announced at the Valentine’s Day rally.
Fun is a big part of the SWS culture, Cantanno said, as well as unity, family and service. He added that he hopes potental sponsors realize that they are making a tax-deductible investment in “a pool of children who have great character and a great sense of duty” when they contribute to the Race for Education.
“You are getting a child who can do more for the community,” he said. “In the world today, there is so much heartache and dismay. You need to encourage the people who are going to make that world a different place now, at an early age.”