Kindergartners create koala necklaces to benefit Australian wildlife

A finished charm necklace awaits packaging for sale. Teachers Leah Bewley and Tammy Wheeler were inspired to undertake the fundraiser by their students' curiosity about the wildfires in Australia. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter) 

By Shelley Swift | Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD – Hundreds of koala bears have taken up temporary residence at J.B. Stephens Elementary School, but students are hoping they all find good homes soon.

Two classes of kindergartners have been busy attaching tiny silver koala charms to necklaces, which are being sold to raise funds for the Wildlife Warriors organization founded by the late Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin and his wife, Terri.

The students hope to raise $1,500 to support wildlife conservation efforts in Australia, where devastating wildfires have killed an estimated 1 billion animals since June.

Students at the school have been snatching up the $5 necklaces, especially the third-graders. “They seem to be a particularly hot item among the third-grade girls,” said kindergarten teacher Tammy Wheeler.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

The students who buy them love the cute koala charms, but they’re also excited knowing their money is going toward a great cause.

“We want to help the koalas from fires so they don’t get hurt,” said kindergartner Charlson DePrez, 6, who thinks the money raised could be used to rebuild koalas’ homes, or buy seeds to replace lost trees.

His classmate, Harlee Donahue, hopes veterinarians can use the money to buy medicine for sick and injured animals. “If they had pain in their paws they’d need to take healing medicine,” said the kindergartner, who would also like to buy the koalas necklaces “so they can be happy.”

Wheeler was quick to join fellow teacher Leah Bewley’s plan to launch the fundraiser after a student talked about seeing coverage of the Australian wildfires on the news.

“We found Australia on the map and shared our concern for the injured and displaced animals. One of the students said we could draw pictures and sell them to help,” said Bewley, an avid animal lover. “It was then the mood in the room changed from feeling sad and helpless to empowered.”

The teachers were moved by their students’ desire to make a difference for animals and conservation workers halfway around the world. They found the charms and necklaces online, and the students went to work, with tiny fingers attaching the charms to each necklace, which consists of a waxed cotton cord in varying colors. The students have assembled half of the 300 necklaces they hoped to sell so far.

Their goal is to sell all 300, so they can send $1,500 to the Wildlife Warriors organization.

They still have about 125 necklaces left to sell to meet their goal.

All J.B. Stephens students have taken home order forms, and necklaces are also being sold by word of mouth. Anyone is welcome to stop by the school to buy them between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays through Feb. 28, or while supplies last.

With 42 students between their two classes, Bewley and Wheeler have plenty of nimble hands to finish assembling and selling the necklaces.

The funds raised will go to the Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors conservation team, whose ongoing efforts have become even more critical since the 2019-20 wildfires have burned more than 46 million acres.

While learning about the fires has been sad for students, it has spurred them into action.

“The kids feel really good knowing part of their money is going to buy medicine for sick animals,” Wheeler said.

Assembling and selling the necklaces has also been a great economics lesson for them.

“Our learning goal is to go beyond the walls of the classroom,” Wheeler said. “This has given them the opportunity to work together toward a group goal, to promote the fundraiser and implement it,” she said.

The biggest take-away is that these children feel empowered to make a difference in the world, Bewley said.

“They are young but still have something they can offer. They are using their problem-solving skills to help make a difference on a different continent. The students feel bigger, and their world gets smaller.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Kindergartners at J.B. Stephens Elementary School are assembling and selling koala charm necklaces to raise funds for the Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors organization.

The $5 necklaces can be purchased at the school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays through Feb. 28, or while supplies last.

J.B. Stephens Elementary School

1331 N. Blue Road