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From Italian Creme Cake to crowdfunding: School fundraisers still help kids

Jessica Stoneking, Seven Spring Elementary art teacher, and a group of kindergarten children, enjoy a colorful floor rug during instruction time. The rug is one of the many flexible seating options art students have in Stoneking's class. [Gail Diederich]
Published Sep. 26
Updated Sep. 26

NEW PORT RICHEY — An Italian Crème Cake could earn big bucks at a school cake walk. Online fundraising was far in the future when I began my teaching career in east Tennessee in the early 1970s. But it and cake walks had the same purpose.

When we needed supplies, but had no funding, we organized a family fun night for our 325 students in grades K-8. Cake walks were popular fundraisers, supplied with donated home-baked treats from parents and grandparents.

Times have changed, but situations haven’t. Teachers still need those extras that are not in the school budget. Memories came flooding back recently when a notice arrived from Seven Springs Elementary School art teacher Jessica Stoneking. She was asking for donations to purchase “flexible seating” for the 457 children she teaches.

“I see our students use art and their own creativity as a therapeutic outlet every day,” Stoneking wrote in her proposal. She was hoping to buy wobble chairs, stack stools and thickly padded cushions for them.

Jayden Torrence and Theodore Andriopoulos, Seven Springs Elementary School first-graders, find a low table and padded cushions just fine for completing artwork for teacher Jessica Stoneking. The teacher sought online donations to pay for flexible seating for her students. [Gail Diederich]

“Attention and behavior are improved with flexible seating, which allows for a richer learning experience and increased productivity,” she wrote. She used the website donorchoose.org to seek $678.

In one week, she reached the goal and ordered the flexible seating.

“I promise to do my best to make sure our little Sharks have the best year ever in art," Stoneking responded to donors. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

Online fundraising has replaced the decades-old family fun nights, which also came with long hours of preparation, cake baking and cleanup after the event.

For the curious, here’s how a cakewalk worked: Numbered squares were placed in a circle on the floor, and individuals paid a small fee to participate. Music was played, then suddenly stopped with each participant landing on a square. A number was pulled from a “hat,” and the participant standing on the matching number won a cake — maybe that Italian Crème Cake.

In both Stoneking’s case and those of my early teaching days, students were the real winners, thanks to the generosity of people passionate about helping them have the best opportunities in schools.

Gail Diederich is a retired Pasco County teacher of 32 years. She writes feature stories with an education focus for Pasco and Hernando counties. She can be reached at gdiederich@gmail.com.

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