Students from The U’s Honors Experience class partnered with students and staff at Vermillion's Jolley and Austin Elementary schools to raise more than $1,500 to send to Pennies for Peace, a program of the Central Asia Institute dedicated to improving educational opportunities in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The original goal was to raise $600 to send to Pennies for Peace. The students at Austin and Jolley shattered that goal in less than a month’s time.

"Organizing the project was difficult at times, but fun nonetheless," admitted Ally VanderWeide, a USD freshman from Brandon Valley, S.D. "For me, seeing the elementary schools soar past our original goal of $600 was thrilling."

USD chose Pennies for Peace because of its connection to the Honors summer reading assignment, "Three Cups of Tea," a true story written by USD alum Greg Mortenson. The book recounts Mortenson's journey from a failed 1993 attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain, to his successful establishment of Central Asia Institute.

Since the Vermillion School District uses the Character Counts pillars to teach trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship, Pennies for Peace was thoughtfully incorporated into the schools' "caring" month. USD students worked with Betsy Hughes, Austin school counselor, and Barb Schwartz, Jolley school counselor, to bring the project into the elementary schools.

"Pennies for Peace was a great opportunity for the students at Jolley to demonstrate the Character Counts pillar of caring on a global level," Schwartz stated. "It was a positive experience for the school system to work with USD students to make a difference."

This project was supported in part through a grant awarded to the Center for Academic Engagement at The University of South Dakota from Learn and Serve America through the Midwest Consortium for Service-Learning in Higher Education and the Corporation for National & Community Service. Thanks to the grant both schools have been able to purchase new books about these regions for their libraries.

For more information about the Central Asia Institute and Pennies for Peace, please visit the Pennies for Peace Web site:

A photo of the Jolley Elementary students expressing their gratitude for USD’s involvement with the Pennies for Peace project is available for download at

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