‘A way to say thanks’: Teachers tackle obstacle course to salute Bellefonte pupils for fundraising

Without hesitation, Bellefonte Elementary School Vice Principal Duffy Besch hurled himself through a mud pit on Friday morning.

It was all part of the Million Penny Project celebration the school has been involved with this year.

“The community has helped us out in so many ways that it’s our turn to give back,” Besch said.

Through multiple fundraising efforts, students and staff at Bellefonte Elementary School raised $5,016.39 that will go toward four Centre County-based organizations: Tides, Toys for Tots, Easter Seals and the Faith Centre.

Other money will be donated to the Parent Teacher Organization’s technology fund, said Principal Karen Krisch.

This was the first year the school has expanded the donation drive to help raise money for more than one organization, physical education teacher and organizer Doug Bates said.

The initiative started in 1995 to support Easter Seals.

“Each year, we’re looking for a way to improve the campaign,” Bates said. “It’s a blast for us and a real joy for the kids, because it gets them involved in the community.”

Some students held a coin collection while others sold wreaths at Bellefonte Victorian Christmas. Shea Chapman, 9, and classmate Bayli Bates, 8, both said they brought loose change to school.

Last year, the school raised $4,800, Doug Bates said. This year, the Bestwick Foundation donated an extra $100 to push the school past its $5,000 goal.

At the finale celebration Friday, faculty and staff were part of an obstacle course; eight teams of five competed in bowling, a rubber chicken toss, a mud crawl and a balance-beam act for the pupils’ pleasure.

As kindergarten teacher Staci Chapman slid into the bowling pins on a scooter, the nearly 415 students jumped to their feet and cheered. When Brett Witmer, a second-grade teacher, made his way through the mud pit, the chants got even louder, with the students stomping their feet on the bleacher floorboards of the school’s gymnasium.

“The most fun part was seeing our teachers go through the mud,” Shea said. “It was kind of funny. They got really dirty.”

Early Friday morning, teachers began to set up the obstacle course and make the sliding pit out of mud and chocolate pudding, Krisch said.

“It’s been a fun month, and today is our finale to celebrate what we accomplished,” she said. “It’s a way to say thanks and show our appreciation to the kids because they’ve been a big part of this and were able to be completely interactive in the community.”