Fourth Graders Set Up Shop To Help Animals

April 3, 2017
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Members of the Monmouth County SPCA join teacher Barbara Leary and her fourth grade class at Keansburg’s Joseph C. Caruso Elementary School. The students are raising money for the SPCA and the county K-9 unit.

Story and photos by John Burton |

KEANSBURG – Teacher Barbara Leary believes her fourth grade class gets the best of all worlds with their fundraising activities.

“They learn so much,” from this exercise in raising money to help animals, Leary said of the 19 students in her class at the Joseph C. Caruso Elementary school. Specifically, they are introduced to community service, she said, along with the responsibilities of owning a pet, as well as incorporating some of the tasks into her lesson plans. “It really makes a difference, with the kids learning about giving back,” she stressed. “I know it may sound corny but it’s true.”

Leary’s students are undertaking the responsibility of running a working store – selling toys, clothing items, some cute tchotchkes and cookies and brownies – with the goal of raising money to assist the Monmouth County SPCA in its mission to help animals, and for the K-9 division of the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.

Lily Hamilton, 10, is one of Leary’s students, who’s working as one of the store managers. She felt it was particularly important to help dogs that work with law enforcement. “If we don’t have them we probably wouldn’t be safe,” Lily explained.

Leary has been a teacher in the Keansburg district for approximately 20 years and for the last 16 of them she’s been working with her classes on these fundraising efforts, specifically aimed at helping animals. “I’m a big animal lover and I believe in giving back to the community,” she said, seeing this as a way of incorporating some of those values into her lesson plans and classroom activities. She started with a little bake sale – called, appropriately enough “the barkery” – which evolved into a teacher and student-run “restaurant” in the school cafeteria for an evening, with the kids working as servers for parents, fellow students and community members. Now, for the sixth year, this year’s fourth-grade class is running the store.

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Leary said the store items being sold were donated by numerous area businesses, including the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital and the Middletown Animal Hospital. The New York Jets and Giants contributed autographed posters and the New Jersey Devils supplied an autographed hockey puck for the store. Her former students even come and pitch in, helping with the current batch’s efforts, Leary said.

To raise funds, the students are selling donated goods in a “store” to benefit the SPCA and the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Department’s K-9 unit.

“Kids have a natural curiosity about animals,” which these efforts help to encourage, teaching students about nature and responsible pet ownership, Leary observed. In addition, the students operate the cash register, sharpening math skills; learn about running a business; write essays related to their activities; and learn about future career choices.

Lily said when she gets a little older she’d like to volunteer at the Monmouth County SPCA because, “The animals need our help.”

Ross Licitra, executive director and chief of humane law enforcement, visited the class this week for the store’s opening. Licit praised Leary and her efforts, noting, “This is something she does out of her clear love of animals.”

“The messages of giving to nonprofits and for caring for animals,” Licit maintained, “and to collectively working together as a group are phenomenal.”

A sheriff’s officer and his canine partner visit the elementary school annually, describing the work they do, a welcome visit for the students, Leary said. “We are proud to continuously have the students of the Joseph C. Caruso school include the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office as part their fundraising efforts and thank them for their kindness and generosity,” Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden said in an email message this week. “The dedication and commitment to this project each year strengthens our K-9 unit and teaches students an important lesson on the importance of giving.”

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James Valle, a 9-year-old student working in the store said, “Animals are important to take care of because they’re part of the world.”

And Michaela Kelly, 10, said projects like this, “make sure everybody does what they’re supposed to do,” in helping animals.

Michaela confided she especially like cats. “I like dogs too,” she added, explaining, “Everybody pays attention to dogs, but cats are important, too.”

Leary and her class are operating the store until March 30. It is available to community members, students and families.

The class will operate an Italian restaurant on May 23 in the cafeteria of the newly built Joseph C. Caruso Elementary School, 81 Frances Place, which has been open since last September.

Students will also be fundraising at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant, Holmdel Towne Center, on May 20.

This article was first published in the March 30-April 6, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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