The Penny Project to honour lives lost in Holocaust
March 12, 2010
By Jason Misner
COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, HDSB STAFF
Tucked in a room in the office space at Milton District High School are three metal milk cans.
Two of them, extremely heavy, contain a total of 60,000 pennies.
The other one has a few at this point.
This is just the beginning of an ambitious project the school has started, under the direction of eager principal Ian Jones, to collect six million pennies to help illustrate the atrocities of the Holocaust during WWII that saw six million Jewish people killed at the hands of Nazi Germany.
Each penny represents a tragic life lost.
It’s called The Penny Project and the 1,200-student school is behind it. There are penny jars in each classroom and Milton District High School students throughout the day more than willingly contribute a penny or two to the project.
It’s part and parcel of a three-year school plan to address cultural diversity and tolerance.
Jones, a 41-year educator, made clear the intent is not to compare lives lost to pennies but to give students a sense of the magnitude of lives lost – the sheer numbers - and the impact on world history.
“It’s probably the most startling example of the consequence of hatred that you could think of in the history of the world,” he said in explaining why the Holocaust has been the focus. “I tell kids when I’m talking about The Penny Project, why were these people put in camps? Because they were different, that’s the only reason.”
MDHS says, in an attempt to create a tangible metaphor of this tragedy, has begun its penny project with the help of staff, students and many community friends.
The culmination of The Penny Project will result in a two-day Holocaust conference held at MDHS Nov. 11-13, Holocaust Education Week. Activities include the staging of a Diary of Anne Frank play.
Jones said the school has found ways to work Holocaust events into its teachings. For example, the school’s food teacher is teaching recipe from In Memory’s Kitchen, a cookbook crafted by Mina Pachter, a 70-year-old grandmother who perished in the Terezin concentration camp.
Students Eilidh Fisher, Grade 12, and Hugh Ritchie, Grade 11, are among those helping coordinate and collect pennies for the project.
Fisher, 17, thinks the initiative is an “amazing idea.” She is also thrilled the school has garnered 60,000 pennies so far in a month’s time.
“It shows how much our school community is involved,” she said with a proud smile, adding she visited Auschwitz last fall.
An aspiring teacher, Fisher said she hopes to continue to build awareness about this tragedy so as to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.
“I don’t think people teach it enough.”
Ritchie, 16, said the idea is to get people to relate to feeling of being discriminated against.
“Everybody needs to be reminded of this (Holocaust),” he said.
The collected pennies will eventually be put on display in a plexi-glass case in space between the office and the theatre, Jones noted.
The goal is to collect six million pennies, which equals $60,000. Jones said half the money collected would be donated to War Child and the rest kept by the school to help MDHS students participate in cultural proficiency activities like additional visits to museums of tolerance like in Los Angeles.
A key part of Milton District High School’s cultural proficiency objective is to also recognize the changing demographic face of Milton, and to help everyone build strong relationships with each other, the principal said.
Between 2001-2006, there was an astounding 780 per cent change in the visible minority population in Milton, he said.
“My whole deal is to predict and prevent rather than respond and react,” he said, adding there is another 10-day trip planned to Auschwitz in early April. “Milton is the fastest changing community actually in the world.”
Those interested in donating pennies to The Penny Project can call MDHS at 905-878-2839.