MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Imagine being in fifth grade and wanting to make a difference in the world. That’s exactly what four students from Austin Road Elementary School have done.

Kate Conklin, Brianna Smith, Lily Gertelman and Kayla England love animals and decided they wanted to help a species teetering on the brink of extinction.

“We hoped to accomplish something special in fifth grade since it would be our last year in Austin Road Elementary School,” the girls said. “We wanted to raise money for an animal. First, we were thinking of raising money for polar bears but they were not as endangered as other animals, so then we decided on pandas. We all got to work researching, making posters to advertise our cause and to persuade students to donate. We even scheduled an appointment with our principal (Jim Gardineer). After speaking to our principal, it was official:  We were going to raise money for the pandas.”

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The girls went on the morning announcements to educate their schoolmates and staff about the plight of the panda bears. Then, people could donate by coming over to their table in the cafeteria and dropping off donations into a bucket they had decorated for the occasion.

“We called our fundraiser ‘Pennies for Pandas,’” the girls said.

When it was over, Pennies for Pandas had raised $346.

“When we first found out we raised $346, we were truly ecstatic,” the girls said. “Our principal traded in the money that we raised for a check that we then sent to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).”

In the letter that accompanied the check to the World Wildlife Fund, Gardineer wrote, “The girls ran this fundraiser throughout the month of January during the various lunch periods.  [They] also shared many facts about pandas with their schoolmates during our morning announcements.  I am pleased to report that many of the students in our K-5 building contributed, resulting in the enclosed amount. 

“We greatly appreciate all of the wonderful things that the World Wildlife Fund is doing to preserve the environment.”

The girls said they hope their efforts inspire other kids to take on similar projects.

“We hope that we inspire many kids so that they too can make a change in the world,” they said. “We made a difference, learned a lot, and had fun!”