Museum, teachers help kids prioritize finances

  • Thu Jan 21st, 2010 10:44pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist

In the book “Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday,” a boy wants to buy a walkie-talkie. His spending habits get in the way. He buys bubble gum. He rents a snake.

“His brothers have more money than he does,” said Sedonia Cochran, a fourth-grade teacher at Discovery Elementary School in the Mukilteo district. “He keeps saying it isn’t fair — ‘Why do I just have bus tokens?’

“It’s a stretch, but he has bus tokens. Those people in Haiti now have nothing,” the teacher said Wednesday.

All over Snohomish County, students have been thinking seriously about money after hearing Judith Viorst’s whimsical story. As part of the Great Money Challenge, sponsored by the Imagine Children’s Museum, volunteers in November read the book in more than 200 elementary school classrooms.

Kids then decided how to use $10 donations given to each class. Funding for the program came from Verizon Communications and the U.S. Bancorp Foundation.

When Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake Jan. 12, there was little question over how Cochran’s class would share $10.

“It’s so daunting,” said Cochran, whose students watched as she sent a text message donating the money to the Red Cross for work in Haiti. The class looked at a Web site showing destruction in Port-au-Prince, and discussed Haiti’s poverty. “We talked about it. ‘Can you imagine living on a dollar a day?’ ” she said.

Choices weren’t as easily made before the quake in Haiti.

It was a split decision in Connie Simons’ second-grade class at Forest View Elementary. Her students at the school near Mill Creek decided to spend $5 to treat the class to ice cream, and give half to the Imagine Children’s Museum.

“We made a chart with three columns — spend, save and donate — and I heard all the little opinions,” Simons said.

Lori Eaton, education manager at the Everett-based children’s museum, said students have chosen an amazing variety of ways to use $10. “We have been just blown away,” she said.

Volunteers visited 210 classrooms in November. By this week, about 50 had yet to report on how the money was used. “A number of classes turned it into a fundraiser, and an additional $600 was raised,” Eaton said.

John Arbuckle sent the museum an e-mail telling how his third- and fourth-grade students at Everett’s View Ridge Elementary picked as their charity Heifer International, which gives livestock to people in developing countries.

When $10 wasn’t enough, kids sold ice cream sandwiches and brought in donations. Arbuckle said that eventually, students had raised enough to help Heifer International buy two goats, and to make a donation to their school library.

The museum’s Web site,, lists class choices.

At Highland Elementary in Lake Stevens, one class purchased a class “pet,” a stuffed puppy to be sent home with students who’d then write in journals about the experience. At Mountain Way Elementary in Granite Falls, one class is saving for a field trip to Woodland Park Zoo, while another had a root beer float party. First-graders at Everett’s Cedar Wood Elementary added more money to the $10, and sent packages to U.S. troops in Iraq.

Retired Everett teacher Mary French, a member of the Imagine Children’s Museum board of directors, visited six schools to read the book as a volunteer. “If a class wanted to spend it on a party, that’s fine. We’d get the whole gamut,” French said.

At Forest View, there was lots of talk before a penny was spent.

“It was quite the discussion,” Simons said. “They’re 7, after all.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460,

Great Money Challenge

Students in more than 200 classrooms in Snohomish County decided whether to spend, share or save $10 donations as part of the Great Money Challenge. Sponsored by the Imagine Children’s Museum, the program was part of a literacy initiative. See how classes used the money at

Coins for Haiti: the Washington Stealth, the Everett AquaSox and Kokanee Elementary School in the Northshore School District will collect coins for relief efforts in Haiti before tonight’s Stealth lacrosse game at 8 p.m. at Everett’s Comcast Arena.