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Murray Journal

McMillan students help Mexico school damaged by earthquake

Aug 23, 2018 04:12PM ● By Jana Klopsch

McMillan students helps raise $2,400 through their Sombreros for Ninos fundraiser for a school damaged by the 2017 Central Mexico earthquake. (Photo courtesy of Claudia Aragon)

By Julie Slama | [email protected] 

Hats off to McMillan Elementary students for helping a Mexican elementary school damaged by 2017 earthquake — or rather, hats on. 

Through the Sombreros for Ninos, or Hats for Children, fundraiser, McMillan students raised $2,400 earmarked for Coyolxauhqui School in Mexico City that was severely damaged by the Sept. 2017 central Mexico earthquake. 

Each Friday, McMillan school children would pay 50 cents to wear a hat to school. The money collected at the end of the school year, then was sent to help with repairs and necessities at the Mexican school, said Claudia Aragon, who helped coordinate the fundraiser. 

“It was fun for the kiddos since they normally can’t wear a hat,” she said. “We had some students who would contribute more to wear a hat, which helped for some of their classmates to wear hats and added to our donations to the school.” 

Aragon, who worked the past eight years at McMillan Elementary as a para-educator, said that with the $2,400, they were beginning to start building an emergency staircase on the two-story school. 

“I was just overwhelmed at the generosity of our students and parents who contributed. Sometimes, kids would bring in 20, 30, 40 dollars. Others would contribute their birthday money or do chores around the house to bring in money. One student was saving money to someday go to Hawaii, but instead, gave it to the Mexico school fund,” she said. 

The hats helped to unite the school as students and teachers had fun wearing hats of all types from baseball caps to goofy, funny ones. 

“One boy wore a taco hat, which was fun, and others really got creative,” she said, adding that she did wear a sombrero. 

Fifth-grade teacher Ann Saltzman said that it was a fun fundraiser.

“It was fun to see all the hats the students came up with, especially all the characters on their heads,” she said. “It was a fun way to contribute to others who needed a helping hand.” 

McMillan may continue to raise funds this school year, but at this point Aragon, who has since left the school, isn’t sure. 

“We had to check each step of the way to make this happen, but the community has been very supportive. We tried to involve everyone from wearing hats to helping by having the kiddos make announcements and gather envelopes (of donations) in each classroom. We had two piñatas that we had to rotate each week to the classroom that brought in the most donations. At the end of the school year, the classes with the most donations got to break them,” she said, adding that the idea to wear hats as a fundraiser came from principal Joy Sanford. 

The idea to help these school children came from Aragon, who shared her personal experience with the students. 

“Thirty-two years ago last September, to the day of the earthquake – Sept. 19, I was in an earthquake in Mexico City. I was 11. I was at home with my three sisters and my dad, but my mom was at work. Afterward, it was the weirdest feeling. I went outside and it was just dusty — I couldn’t see across the street — and very, very quiet. It was scary and eerily calm. Then, all the sirens went off,” she said. 

A bit later, a neighbor came and told her dad that her mom’s building collapsed. Her dad, suffering from leukemia, went off in search of her. Aragon, the oldest, watched her sisters until they could stay with relatives while her dad looked daily for her mom in the rubble. 

“He found her and they talked, but she died before she was rescued,” she said, adding that thousands died in the earthquake and some were never found. 

A few months later, her dad died. However, before he died, he had met Connie Gavin, who was the Mexican ambassador’s wife. She promised to help take care of the girls together and move them state side. Gavin, and her secretary, Janet Rogozinki, kept the promise and Aragon has been in touch with them since. 

So when this earthquake hit, Aragon knew she needed to help and contacted them. 

“They were my angels and did so much for me and my sisters. I knew they could use help now,” she said. 

As a bonus, through the fundraiser, McMillan students learned much about their Mexican counterparts. Not only did they learn a little about the culture and have the opportunity to Skype with them, but they also learned that they are fortunate to attend school, Aragon said. 

“In Mexico, there are too many kids and not enough schools so there is a waiting list to attend school,” she said. “Right now, only some children are getting to attend school. At the school we’re helping, they’re alternating with first through third grade attending one morning and fourth through sixth attending the next in the part of the school that wasn’t damaged. There’s no kitchen now so they can’t fix them lunch. By Skyping, some McMillan students realized their part would help — even months later.”

As a testament to their partnership, Coyolxauhqui School is creating a friendship garden that symbolizes the U.S.-Mexico children’s friendship. Aragon learned from a text that it will be named after her mother. 

“When I read this, it brought me to tears,” she said. “Even though she is not here with us, her spirit still is here with us. We are all connected through children regardless where we are from.”