KIDS AT SCHOOL CAN learn all sorts of things that never show up in teacher’s lesson plans, and not all of those things are good. But at Pershing Elementary, Principal Marcell Archer makes sure that at least some of them are. She had made programs designed to develop character and caring a priority at the school.

As teacher Gwen Sargent can attest, it’s paying off. She recently led her three sixth-grade social studies classes in raising money through Dallas ISD’s Common Cents program. Together, the students raised $3,000 for kids battling cancer at Children’s Medical Center.

Sargent, who has taught at the school for 25 years, says she thinks the students chose to help cancer patients because of their concern for her. A breast cancer survivor, she was still undergoing treatments last semester.

“I was still taking radiation, and they knew something was wrong,” she says. “They could see that I would tire very easily, so I explained it to them, and they were very concerned. I feel like that’s why they wanted to help find a cure for it.”

The students raised the money by selling baked goods after school every day for more than two months. Each week, a group gathered to decide what they’d sell next. Then they worked to let people know about it, designing posters and announcements to advertise their wares.

“Maybe one week, they’d sell pickles; another week, something else. But we always had brownies. One of our dads made brownies and popcorn balls for us every single day,” Sargent says.

Which leads to another crucial part of their success: parents, many of whom baked goodies or helped out in other ways.

“This was really a group effort,” Sargent adds. “The parents made all the food, the kids made all the decisions and sold it all, and our principal was really supportive of the project. She was determined that we’d raise the money.”

Archer’s determination to do good seems to be rubbing off on students’ individual efforts, too. Christopher Pawlick, a first-grader at Pershing, recently started a project to help save rainforests after learning about them in class.

“He had just finished studying rain forest in first grade, and he came to me and said, ‘Mommy, they’re destroying the rain forests. How can we help?’” says Pam Pawlick, Christopher’s mom. “The fact that they’re teaching that in the first grade – and he understands the importance of it – is pretty impressive.”

Knowing her son was serious about helping, she searched the Internet for things they could do. There she learned about the World Land Trust, through which people can preserve acreage in rainforests. Then she talked with Christopher and Archer about involving Pershing students to raise money for the cause.

“Marcell thought it was a great idea, and Christopher was so excited,” she says. “He’d been wanting to do something like this for a while.”

To raise the money, the two Pawlicks made a paper tree to be posted in the school hallway. Then they sold leaves to be attached to the tree, with students’ names on them, for $1 each.

However much is raised through the project, Pawlick says she knows it will be worthwhile.

“It shows that if a teacher plants a seed of curiosity, you don’t have to leave your interest in the classroom,” she says. “You can take it further and develop a plan to make a real difference. Chris has already proven to me that even seven-year-olds can look outside of themselves, show compassion for others and come up with great ideas to help.”