Stewarttown Public School has galvanized around a charity project aimed at reducing the spread of the life-threatening disease, malaria, while honouring the memory of a beloved former student.
Since the beginning of the school year, the Halton Hills school has been fundraising for a charity called Spread The Net, co-founded by television personality Rick Mercer and philanthropist Belinda Stronach. Working with the organization Plan International, Spread The Net is a friendly competition between Canadian schools to raise funds for bed nets to reduce the contraction of the mosquito-borne disease in people living in African countries. The top fundraising elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools will receive a visit from Rick Mercer and appear on an episode of the Rick Mercer Report. That decision is expected to be made some time in March.
Since 2007, Spread the Net has delivered more than 19 million malaria-preventing bed nets to families in Africa. According to Plan International, malaria kills more than 450,000 children every year.
What makes the Spread the Net project particularly special for Stewarttown PS is the connection to former Grade 7 student Chelsea DeForest. She passed away in a car accident in 2007 and a charity was established in her name called, Chelsea's Charity. Every year, the school's Student Parliament chooses a charity to support in Chelsea's honour and this year students chose Plan International and the Spread the Net campaign.
Stewarttown PS teachers Kathryn Fraser, Karla McEachern, Michele Buist, Lezlie Pettitt and Sonia Nalywajko have been instrumental in organizing many events since September in support of Spread The Net. These events have helped the school raise more than $27,000 for the project. Student-led activities have included hosting a marketplace during the holiday season, a dodgeball tournament, cookies and hot chocolate sales, and a family skating event.
“We have learned, that often it is the smallest things that can make the biggest difference with the greatest impact," McEachern said.
She said the support received from the school and surrounding community for this project has been “awesome".
“We hope everyone learns that if you put your mind to something, anything is possible. We have worked tirelessly as a team, school and community to achieve a goal – and we not only achieved it but we surpassed it."
Members of Student Parliament say supporting Spread The Net has proven to be a positive learning experience that has helped them better understand the power of working together to pursue a common goal.
David, a Grade 8 student at Stewarttown PS, said, “It was an honour to help people affected by malaria by working together to make a difference one net at a time."
“Students have connected in different ways on this journey over the last few months," said Valerie, also a student in Grade 8.
Teaching staff have been able to weave many aspects of the curriculum into student learning through support of the Spread The Net project, McEachern said. In Grade 8 Geography, for example, students have learned what impacts a person's quality of life and that “something as simple as obtaining a bed net to prevent malaria can completely change and impact a person so positively."
Paul VanderHelm, Principal of Stewarttown Public School, said he's proud of the school's commitment to supporting Spread The Net through Chelsea's Charity.
“This is a great cause and the whole school has rallied behind it," he said. “It has helped provide a common goal for us to work toward and, as a result, has increased school spirit and camaraderie among staff and students."
While the school is excited to hear if Rick Mercer chooses to visit their school, the greater reward is helping charities, VanderHelm said.
“We will continue to support many charities and do our best to contribute in any way we can."