PENN YAN — Keith Prather stood in the middle of his classroom as students scrambled to stand on the paper numbers placed in a circle around him on the floor.
“Lucky dice, lucky dice, who’s playing? Have your tickets ready,” he called out as he walked around the circle collecting tickets from the students’ outstretched hands.
When there was a student standing on each number, Prather handed a pair of large foam dice to one of the students.
“When I say ‘Lucky dice,’ you throw them out there,” Prather told the child, pointing to the floor in the middle of the circle. “One, two, three, lucky dice!”
The student tossed the dice, which bounced and came to rest showing a five and a one.
“A five and a one, five and one is six, Matt’s a winner,” said Prather, nudging the student who’d stood on the number six over toward the prize table.
A casual observer walking into Prather’s festive fifth-grade classroom March 14 might not have guessed that Prather and the students were actually working to raise money for a worthy cause. “Lucky Dice” was just one of the carnival-style games set up throughout the St. Michael School building as part of the school’s annual Mission Day event.
Each year on Mission Day, St. Michael’s teachers set up games in their classrooms, and the students bring in money to purchase tickets to play the games. The kids then spend the morning going from classroom to classroom playing games, winning small prizes and buying snacks, said Dr. James Tette, principal.
Mission Day is not just about fun and games, however.
“All the funds raised through ticket sales go to some needy cause. In the past, Mission Day receipts have been used to support a school in Kenya, an orphanage in Honduras and last year, to help defray medical expenses for a graduate of the school,” Tette said.
The $468.57 raised through Mission Day 2007 will be sent to Casa del Nino, which is an orphanage in Honduras. The students and teachers decided to send the money to the orphanage because it is sponsored by Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community, which includes St. Michael Parish in Penn Yan, said Anna Hurley, first-grade teacher at the school and member of the Catholic community’s St. John’s Small Home Outreach Committee.
“We had shown them a video, so they got to see who the orphanage was helping and where money from their Mission Day will go,” Hurley said.
Mission Day proceeds will most likely be used to purchase food, clothing and medications for the students, she said, and any extra money might even be used to fund a special outing to a park or a movie. Our Lady of the Lakes is currently raising money to build a library at the orphanage, and last fall St. Michael students collected pennies for that cause.
“It’s something we try to keep in their minds all the time,” added Hurley, who ran the bean-bag toss game during the Mission Day festivities.
Mission Day is a high-profile activity, but St. Michae’s teachers and staff try to plan at least one service-related event for the children each month, Tette noted. In February, for example, the students made Valentine’s Day cards for homebound parishioners. March’s Mission Day is always eagerly awaited, he said.
“I think it’s important because it’s a way for the children to learn how to give to others and have fun doing it,” Tette said. “You’re going to have fun, but you’re going to be helping other people who aren’t as well off as you.”
The students seemed to like the notion that they could help other children while still having a good time. As fourth-graders Brian Long and Ben Wilder wandered from classroom to classroom adding to their stash of loot, they talked about what a good idea Mission Day was.
“I think that it’s a good thing that we’re actually doing it for something,” Brian said.
“And we’re not just paying the school,” Ben added.
Ben said his favorite Mission Day game was bowling, while Brian said Lucky Dice was his favorite.
“Every time I’ve played is so far except once, I won,” Brian said, displaying the pen, wristband, noisemaker and keychain he’d won so far. “Mission Day is really fun, and we’re winning a lot of prizes.”
Mission Day has been a big hit with students, faculty and parents alike since its inception in 1988, said Suzanne McNeil, third- and fourth-grade teacher. McNeil has been running a bingo game in her classroom each Mission Day for many years, and her classroom was an oasis of relative quiet compared to the good-natured chaos in many of the other rooms.
“It was started because during Lent, there was a big emphasis on giving to the missions. It sort of evolved into the present state,” McNeil said as she loaded her bingo tumbler for a new game.
“They have fun, and the kids like it, especially the older kids. It’s an outreach to people who are less fortunate,” she said.