Friday's fun run at Silver Springs Elementary School raised big money—and a little bit of controversy.
The event was organized by the school's PTA and Dad's Club in partnership with Boosterthon, a for-profit company that runs similar fundraisers across the country.
The fun run was originally scheduled for Feb. 8, but a snow day postponed it until the 15th.
Silver Springs' fun run raised more than an estimated $30,000 for the school, which will be used to buy 50 iPads. Principal Melissa Hunt said the run was a great success and supports positive messages at the school, but some parents disagreed with the tactics that were used to have students collect pledges.
Reaching a Big Goal
Marty Testasecca, president of the Silver Springs Dad's Club, said Hunt approached them and the PTA about hosting a Boosterthon fun run.
"We looked over the information and said, 'Where else would we be able to raise $30,000 in nine days?'," Testasecca said.
He said that last year the parents held eight or nine fundraisers and ended up raising $25,000, and Boosterthon saves them from having to have numerous fundraisers throughout the year.
"When they said, let's just have one major fundraiser event, it makes the parents happy because then they're not getting bugged throughout the year," Testasecca said.
So the groups began planning, and on Jan. 30, they held a pep rally at the school to get the students started. Students then spent the next nine days collecting pledges.
A flat donation could be made, or supporters could pledge a certain amount for each lap the student completed. Supporters could pledge to pay $1 or $5 for every lap a student ran—with a 35-lap limit.
Students were encouraged to go on funrun.com every night to collect pledges. They were also reminded with a recorded phone call from Hunt to each of the homes, as well as in the daily morning announcements.
At lunch, students viewed a Boosterthon video about making good choices, which featured celebrities showing leadership in certain areas, Hunt said.
Hunt also added a challenge that if the students were able to collectively get a pledge from all 50 states, she would get slimed at a future assembly. The students succeeded, and also got pledges from 21 countries.
Testasecca said the students raised more than $42,000 in pledges, and the school will net an estimated $30,000 of the money raised.
The money will be used to buy 50 iPads for the school, which will be purchased in March.
A group of parents have spoken out about how they disagree with the execution and lack of communication about the fundraiser.
Jim Marshall, who has a fifth grade daughter at Silver Springs, said he was immediately against the fundraiser and has seen a lot of angry emails being sent from parents to the principal and superintendent.
"Every single day at school there has been massive pressure to raise money with announcements over the loudspeaker about who is raising money and celebratory parties for getting certain achievements. They were sending robocalls to everyone every single night, reminding people about fundraising, and it just seemed to turn the school upside down," Marshall said. "It was just getting really over the top."
Erin Rickard, who has a son in first grade at Silver Springs, agreed.
"I felt that the marketing fundamentals of the program were unjust to the children," she said. "I feel that they were exploited with excessive marketing tactics. Instead of building character, we're breaking character down because kids were given toys based on how much money they raised."
Hunt said that announcements are part of the daily routine at Silver Springs and that automated phone calls to home are also used throughout the year.
Rickard she can only remember receiving an automated phone call from the school before in the case of school closings.
Marshall and Rickard both said the fundraiser put parents in a bad position.
"They got all the kids excited. They're talking about it every day, they're making a big deal about it, and now the parents feel bad having to tell their kids no, or just kind of acquiesce to get along," Marshall said.
Rickard said she thinks many parents contributed just so their child wouldn't feel left out. She also said she did not agree with the videos being played at school lunches.
"To watch my child see a video, showing him how to call his uncle and ask for money and then have him practice there, do a mock-phone call, without my permission," she said. "They said nobody was forced to participate, but our children were forced to participate. They were brought in to run, they were brought in to watch videos every day during lunch. They weren't forced to pledge, but everyone was forced to participate."
Rickard added that she did not like how students received individual incentives for pledges. She said that if a student received a pledge, within a day or two the student was given a toy in front of the class. She said as the program went on, teachers started putting the toys directly into the students' backpacks, but all the students still know what each child got.
"So parents who either couldn't afford to donate or refused to donate for their own personal reasons, those kids didn't have a choice. They didn't have the choice on whether they could get pledges or not, but then they had to sit and watch other kids whose parents didn't make those same choices or could make pledges, so I feel they were left out."
Marshall said his daughter felt ostracized because she was not raising any pledges.
"It's really no different than walking into Chuck E. Cheese's where they entice the kids with tickets. I know what I'm getting into at Chuck E. Cheese's, but I wouldn't expect this from my elementary school," Marshall said.
Rickard said she spoke to a Boosterthon representative at the event on Friday and was able to work out an agreement for her to give a certain pledge amount so every child in her son's classroom could receive the first-level toy.
"I just wanted everyone who didn't get one to get one," she said.
The Fun Run
Every student participated in the event on Friday and was given a Boosterthon fun run t-shirt.
Each grade ran at a different time throughout the day, and for each lap a student ran, a teacher marked a tally on the back of their t-shirt. Boosterthon then takes down the number of laps to collect the per-lap pledges.
Students ran around for 30-45 minutes to loud music, and some laps had a theme such as "skipping" or "dancing." Students also took a victory lap with their parents after they finished.
Jessica Echelmeier, who has a daughter in first grade at the school, said she was proud of the way the children were participating in the fun run and helping each other get up if they fell down.
Echelmeier added that she was glad the program was getting the students some exercise.
"Overall, as long as the message stays that we're doing something beneficial for the school and promoting fitness, I'm happy with it," she said.
Hunt said the students were very excited about the fun run and that she has received a lot of good feedback from parents.
"It was fabulous," Hunt said. "It was a great way to bring the community together and it was extremely successful."
Encouraging Good Choices
This year's theme for Boosterthon was "Highway USA," and students were taught about choosing leadership, learning, fitness, character and a good attitude.
Hunt said the videos shown at lunch on these values fit in well with the school's Leader in Me program, which is based on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
"Of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the seventh habit is Sharpen Your Saw, which means you have to be cognizant of your body and your health and your fitness. So this Boosterthon fit into our Leader in Me objectives," Testasecca said.
Silver Springs PTA President Tanya Murphy said she was happy with the program that Boosterthon brought to the school and said it encouraged good character.
"As far as getting to work together to a common goal, I think that was huge. And the kids were so excited to get iPads for their classrooms," she said. "I think that it was a good thing for the Dad's Club and the PTA and the school to work together."
Sharing Suggestions for the Future
Marshall said he would have liked the principal to send a note to parents asking for their input before the program was presented to the kids and make sure the parents knew what would happen throughout the two weeks with the videos, parties, announcements and more.
Murphy said the PTA hosted a parent info night in mid-January that explained Boosterthon the the parents, and Hunt said information was shared through the school's email newsletter.
Rickard said she was unable to attend the PTA meeting and that not every parent was able attend. She also added that the information sent home did not tell her everything about the fundraiser.
"The information that came home was very, very vague," she said. "And we were lead to believe there was going to be teams. I am a room parent, and I went in and we made a team name and a team banner, but there was no team incentive."
Each class did create a team name and banner to run through at the start of the event, then children ran as individuals. In addition to individual incentives, classes were rewarded for meeting certain pledge goals by receiving things such as a crazy hair day or PJ day. Each class picked its own reward.
While the fundraiser raised a lot of money for the school, Marshall said he and other parents were not happy about having Boosterthon administer the fundraiser and take a portion of the money raised.
Hunt said she and the fun run organizers were very comfortable with Boosterthon coming in to helping organize the event.
"We met our goal, and I don't think we would have been successful without them," she said.
Rickard said she was able to meet with Hunt to talk on Thursday and she spoke to the Boosterthon representative on Friday. She said she wants to work with them to make changes for the future and have better communication. She asked the Boosterthon representative to organize the event by classroom, rather than by individualizing the children.
"He really did seem to like my idea," she said. "I do feel very positive going forward that we can make it better."
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- View more photos from the Fun Run
- View a video of the first graders' run