The class stared up at their teacher, who clapped his hands loudly. “Class, may I have your attention?”
Any whispering that may have been going on ceased as the class leaned intently toward Mr. Clark. Announcements like these were seldom, so it was a treat when they happened.
“Class,” Mr. Clark said again. “We have a field trip to a real cave coming up!”
The class cheered. The love of field trips was real.
“I’m going to send home a permission slip for your parents. There is an admission fee, but our awesome PTO has offered to pay for half of it. Any questions?”
A boy in the back of the room named Ulrich raised his hand. “How much does it cost?” he asked anxiously. “My family doesn’t have a lot of money.”
“Your family will need to pay $10.”
Ulrich nodded. A murmur broke out and Mr. Clark clapped his hands again. “Class! I forgot to say you will need to bring a sack lunch!”
Seven-year-old Regina DeLaCampe smiled. “Sack lunches are my favorite!” she exclaimed into the noise.
Her best friend Mercie nodded, “I love sack lunches too! I love it because I get a chocolate bar and a juice box!”
“Presley! Why don’t you pass out these permission slips?” Mr. Clark asked the dark-haired girl sitting primly, front and center.
“Oh, of course, Mr. Clark! I’d love to help you!” she answered in that awful, sickly-sweet voice.
“Leave it to the teacher’s pet!” mouthed Regina’s other best friend, Krystina. Regina and Mercie nodded in agreement.
At lunch, the other second-grade teacher, Miss Calypso, took Regina, Krystina and Mercie aside. “Your teacher recommended you for a special program that we’re doing. He said that you girls are creative and caring, which is what we’re looking for. We are a club that’s trying to start a school-wide movement to change the community. Would you girls like to participate? We already have your parents’ consent.”
The girls looked at each other. “We’d love to!”
Miss Calypso smiled. “Great. I’m very excited to have you join. We will meet in the gym at 2:30 this afternoon.”
At 2:30 p.m., Regina, Mercie and Krystina walked tensely to the gymnasium. In there, they saw a lot of third, fourth, and fifth graders, but no other second graders. Miss Calypso had left out that part.
“Are we in the right place?” asked Krystina, looking around shyly.
Just then, they saw who looked like a fifth-grade version of Presley.
“You guys are supposed to be outside. We’re having the Community Changers meeting right now,” she flipped her high ponytail.
Just then, Miss Calypso walked by. “Actually Paisley, these girls are supposed to be here. I’d like to see more inclusion from you, very disappointing.”
She looked stunned and said, “Oh, Miss Calypso, I am so sorry!” in the same sickly-sweet way as Presley.
“Apologize to them sincerely, Paisley. I mean it. We’ll have to kick you out of our team if you can’t show respect.”
“I’m so sorry.” She looked sorry. Probably because she’d get kicked out, thought Regina.
Miss Calypso clapped her hands, two long claps and three short ones. The students clapped back. “I have gotten a substitute para for my classroom on Wednesday afternoons from now on. I would like to tell you why you’re all here. You have been hand-picked by your teachers to represent your grade in changing the community ¬– starting with our own ACNE (Ashtown, Cedarbrook, Newton Elementary). Get into groups of your grade level and think of a couple of plans to change your community and carry them out!”
“What do you mean?” asked a fourth grader. “What do you mean by a couple of plans?”
“Something good that will help people!”
Regina, Mercie and Krystina huddled on the cold gym floor. “We could cut our hair for Locks for Love!” Krystina suggested. That meant a lot coming from Krystina, who loved every inch of her waist-long brown hair that was always vanilla bean scented and shiny.
“Or we could start a community garden! And give people free fruits and veggies!” Mercie suggested.
Regina knew what she wanted to do. “You know when Ulrich said his family didn’t have a lot of money this morning?” His words still haunted her. “What if we made a field-trip fund that paid for kids going on field trips and also provided sack lunches?”
Krystina nodded. “Yes. That’s a good idea, but…” she trailed off. “It’s better than all of us chopping off our hair, but it’s kind of specific. I’ve heard of towns around us having something called a food shelf. Where people volunteer and other people can go get free food!”
Mercie cocked her head from side to side. “That’s cool, but a bit ambitious, don’t you think?”
Krystina nodded. “We know the older kids will probably do better.”
Regina was indignant. “No way! We can totally get a better idea!” She made a contemplating face. “How about we do all of the ideas?”
Mercie shook her head. “I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
Regina furrowed her eyebrows. “What don’t you follow about it? If we’re willing, we’ll cut our hair! If we want to, we can build a garden! If we can, we can collect money for field trips!”
Mercie and Krystina shared a skeptical glance. “Uhm, not to be rude or anything, but doesn’t that sound a bit – I don’t know, ambitious?”
Regina didn’t know what ‘ambitious’ meant, but it sounded negative. “It sounds over-the-top, yes, but that’s why we’re going to recruit all of the second-graders in the school!”
The next morning, Mr. Clark and Miss Calypso’s classes were sending home permission slips not for another field trip, but to help change the community. By Friday, most kids’ parents had said yes to them helping the Community Changer’s Club (ACNE Tri-C) on Saturday.
Regina, Mercie and Krystina stood in front of the grade. They clapped loudly, just like the teachers did. “Okay!” shouted Regina. “We need to split into three groups! How many of you are willing to donate hair?” A group of girls raised their hands.
“Great! Now, who would like to help plant a garden?” Several boys and girls raised their hands.
“And finally, who would like to go around collecting money for field trip funds?” The rest of the grade raised their hands.
“Awesome! Thank you guys so much! If you’re donating hair, meet Krystina Hayes at the hair shop in Ashtown at 10 a.m. tomorrow. If you’re planting a garden, meet Mercie Leighton at 123 1st Street in Newton at 9:30 a.m. And the rest of you, come with me now!” Regina felt important leading a third of the grade to a corner of the hall. “How many of you live in Ashtown?” Several kids raised their hands. “Cedarbrook?” More kids. “The rest of you live in or near Newton?” They nodded.
Miss Calypso came back from the copy room and handed out a stack of papers to each kid. “When you go asking for money, give each home this flier so they know what they’re supporting.”
On Saturday at 9:30 a.m., Mercie Leighton’s lawn was full of second graders and their families planting seeds and making a sign.
On Saturday at 10 a.m., the hair shop in Ashtown was full of second graders and their big and little siblings and parents, all donating to Locks for Love.
On Saturday at 10:30 a.m., Ashtown, Newton and Cedarbrook were full of second graders and their families collecting money for the field trip fund.
By Saturday at 5 p.m., there was a completely planted community garden that will provide free vegetables and fruits for everyone. There were 41 wigs worth of hair being sent to Locks for Love. There was $247 for the field trip fund. By Saturday at 5 p.m., there were also many proud second-grade families.
A month later, at the end of May right before school let out, Regina walked into the school like it was a normal day. She slung her backpack into her locker and walked into her classroom. Inside a happy, proud-looking Mr. Clark and a man with a camera. Mercie and Krystina rushed at her and began talking over each other.
“They’re going to interview the whole grade!”
“We’re going to be on national TV!”
“Huh? I just got here. What?”
Mr. Clark walked over. “This is the camera crew from Channel 6. They want to talk to you three. You will be on the six o’clock news!”
Regina’s eyes grew as they were beckoned into the hall. “Really?” she squeaked.
The cameraman turned on the camera and the reporter began talking, “I’m here at Ashtown, Cedarbrook, Newton Elementary in Ashtown, Minnesota with Krystina Hayes, Mercie Leighton, and Regina DeLaCampe, the masterminds behind the ‘ACNE Miracle.’”
At 6 p.m., 46 proud second-grade families sat around their TVs.
“What made you guys think up such an extraordinary plan?” the reporter asked.
“It wasn’t just us. We had a lot of help.” Replied Regina DeLaCampe.
Soon, all 46 second graders were on camera saying, “We did it to help people. It’s not fair that some people have to go without hair, fresh food or not be able to go places everyone else can go.”
Then the camera panned to Regina, Mercie and Krystina. The reporter asked, “What is it like to be recognized as the brilliant, caring second graders who changed the community?”
They shook their heads. “All that matters is that we helped.” And for some reason, Regina was blinking back tears of joy.