Education

8-year-olds didn’t want gifts for their birthdays. They wanted to give back.

Second-graders Ben Johnson, right, and Jackson Coggins, left, asked their classmates at Zion Lutheran School to bring money to send to The BackStoppers, Inc., which helps families of fallen police officers and firefighters. They presented the check to Deputy Chief Craig Coughlin with the Swansea Police Department after school on Dec. 13.
Second-graders Ben Johnson, right, and Jackson Coggins, left, asked their classmates at Zion Lutheran School to bring money to send to The BackStoppers, Inc., which helps families of fallen police officers and firefighters. They presented the check to Deputy Chief Craig Coughlin with the Swansea Police Department after school on Dec. 13.

A pair of Belleville second-graders decided they didn’t want gifts from their friends at their eighth birthday party.

Instead, Ben Johnson and Jackson Coggins asked their classmates at Zion Lutheran School to bring money to send to The BackStoppers, Inc., which helps families of fallen police officers and firefighters.

They raised $650.

Ben’s mom, Leia Johnson, said she talked to him before the joint party about whether he wanted gifts from every kid in his class or if he would consider helping a charity for his birthday. And she said Jackson’s mom, Amanda Coggins, did the same.

But they left it up to Ben and Jackson.

“They talked about it and decided that they’d rather do some donations,” Leia Johnson said.

Their parents gave them ideas — like helping the homeless, an animal shelter or the families of first responders — but Ben and Jackson also picked the charity: BackStoppers.

“They’re both military kids,” Leia Johnson said. “We have conversations often about sacrifices that people have to make.”

Ben’s dad is Lt. Col. Scott Johnson. And Jackson’s dad is Master Sgt. Josh Coggins, who Leia Johnson said is an Air Force police officer, so Jackson has a personal connection to BackStopper’s mission. Plus, “every second-grade boy thinks about being a firefighter or police officer,” she said.

The boys stopped by the Swansea Police Department earlier this month to hand over the donation and take a photo with Deputy Chief Craig Coughlin. They chose to visit the village because Leia Johnson had recently graduated from the Swansea Police Citizen Academy.

She said the boys enjoyed going to the police station and meeting some of the officers, who were grateful for the donation.

“They told the kids, ‘This is a really good thing that you did,’” Leia Johnson said, which made Ben and Jackson feel proud of themselves.

And Ben didn’t go without gifts from family this year, she said; He was given a video game — Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo DS — from his parents and a Nerf gun from his grandparents.

“That’s really all he wanted for his birthday,” Leia Johnson said.

School surpasses goal for bench to honor officer

Maryville Elementary School wanted to create a lasting memorial for St. Louis County Police Officer Blake Synder, who was fatally shot while responding to a disturbance call in October.

Synder’s nephew Samuel Skirball is a student at the Granite City school.

The plan was to create a blue bench out of donated plastic inscribed with Synder’s name. It needed almost 400 pounds of plastic to meet that goal. The community responded by donating 1,344 pounds, which was enough to make three benches.

Principal Mark Lull said the teachers who led the collection effort, Jodi Blomme and Christy Marana, traveled to Evansville, Ind., on Dec. 15 to deliver the plastic to Green Tree Plastics, where the benches were created.

One of the benches was donated to the Officer Blake Snyder Memorial Park in St. Louis County, according to Lull. The other two will be installed at the school in the spring.

District collects more than $20,000 for those in need

Belleville District 201 has had a charitable year.

Belleville East High School alone collected almost $20,000 in cash and gifts for students in financial need this year, according to Principal Jason Karstens.

The school community raises money every year through its “Make a Change” program. Karstens said the students are given money to shop for themselves, and many times, they want to buy gifts for their parents. The students took a trip by limousine to Kohl’s this month.

At Belleville West, Principal Rich Mertens said the “West Helping West” program provided more than 30 Belleville families with Christmas supplies. The school community contributed more than $2,500 to the cause.

Groups donate coats to metro-east students

As temperatures were dropping this month, students in the Collinsville Unit 10 School District were covered.

The Collinsville Fire Department and Maryville Knights of Columbus Council 6625 each donated new coats to Unit 10 schools in early December.

Firefighter Kaleb Lee coordinated the fire department’s effort this year, according to Unit 10, which resulted in almost 100 new coats for students, as well as hats and gloves.

The coats, hats and gloves were offered in a variety of sizes and styles so children could choose their favorites, Unit 10 stated in a post to its Facebook page.

The firefighters purchase coats and accessories every year using money they raise during the year, like at the annual Collinsville Chili Cook-off, and a donation from Collinsville Fire Fighters IAFF Local 2625.

Maryville KC Grand Knight Bob Turnbill also dropped off two large boxes of new coats this month. The Maryville Knights of Columbus raises money throughout the year to support community outreach programs like this one, which is called Coats for Kids.

Apply for this new scholarship starting Jan. 1

A new scholarship opportunity for high school seniors that starts next year is a response to the Ferguson Commission’s report.

BJC HealthCare will fund scholarships of up to $10,000 per academic year for up to 14 college-bound students annually. The awards will also be renewable through graduation or a maximum of 10 semesters.

“One need identified in the Ferguson Commission report is to increase college access and affordability,” Steve Lipstein, BJC president and CEO, said in a released statement. “We also know statistics and studies show there is a very strong connection between higher education levels and better health outcomes.”

The scholarship will be available for students who live in communities served by BJC hospitals, including the metro-east, and who plan to pursue a two- or four-year college degree. Students can begin applying for the BJC Scholars Fund on Jan. 1. The deadline to apply is April 15.

Winners for the 2017-18 academic year will be announced in July.

The need-based awards will apply to a public Illinois state college or university for metro-east students. Scholarship winners will be able to use the money toward tuition, fees, room and board, transportation and incidental costs.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

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