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Every Penny Counts: Little Longhorn Donates to UT Elementary

Giving News

Liesl Geiger on her last day of kindergarten at UT Elementary. Photo courtesy of Alison Eden.


By Courtney Sevener

Little Longhorn makes a gift  to UT Elementary.

To many, pennies have lost any and all value. Most people pass them by without bothering to pick them up. Not third-grader Liesl Geiger. She believes every coin in her piggy bank counts, especially when it can be donated to a good cause.

Liesl has known the importance of a penny since her kindergarten year, when she gave all of her collected change to her school, The University of Texas Elementary, as part of a fundraiser for new buildings to replace portable spaces. Thanks to Liesl and other donors, the school was able to open the first phase of a new facility the following year. Fundraising is now underway for the second phase.

UT Elementary, which operates under UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, was founded in 2003 as part of The UT System’s Every Child, Every Advantage initiative to support P-16 education. Located in East Austin, UT Elementary is a “research-based demonstration school” with “a track record of success in serving urban children.” The school, whose mantra is “teach to the spirit of every child,” is free to students and has a lottery-based admission system for children living in five East Austin ZIP codes. The school primarily serves low-income students who will be the first in their families to attend college.

“She was exposed early on to the idea of philanthropy and helping others,” said Liesl’s mother, Suzanne Geiger. “One of the classrooms in the older grade levels was collecting (for) Pennies for Peace. This campaign trickled down to the younger grades, and everyone was invited to contribute.”

Students file in to UT Elementary. Photo courtesy of UT Elementary.

Pennies for Peace is a program of the Central Asia Institute that aims to teach children that a penny may be nearly worthless in the United States but it can benefit children in other parts of the world. One penny buys one pencil, creating an opportunity for literacy in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. By participating, young donors learn the importance of working together and helping others.

It was this giving opportunity combined with the social and emotional learning curriculum taught at UT Elementary that opened the door of giving for Liesl.

“I wanted to help,” Liesl said. “I did chores and saved change in my piggy bank.”

UT Elementary describes social and emotional learning as “the capacity to recognize and manage emotions, solve problems effectively, and establish positive relationships with others.” Liesl’s former homeroom teacher Rashid Amrani-Khaldi believes that the social-emotional component is just as important as the academics in school.

“We seem to all agree that children need academics to negotiate the challenges of real life,” Amrani-Khaldi said. “Many of those same challenges elicit an emotional response. It’s important for children to learn from an early age how to negotiate their feelings and the feelings of others.”

The focus of this curriculum is acknowledging feelings and figuring out appropriate ways to express them.

UT Elementary's String Project increases students’ social skills and self-esteem. Photo courtesy of UT Elementary.

“By the time our kids are in third, fourth and fifth grade they have a fairly broad emotional vocabulary and use it frequently,” Amrani-Khaldi said. “It’s a special quality to have at such a young age.”

Suzanne chose UT Elementary because it offers a variety of programs that embrace music and culture, such as Digital Storytelling and UT’s String Project.

“We were happy to learn about UT Elementary when we did,” Suzanne said. “We fell in love with the school because we saw that it was providing a nurturing and safe environment for our daughter, and we felt an instant connection with our teachers and administrators, who have always been beyond caring.”

Since her gift, Liesl continues to be involved in UT Elementary fundraising efforts, always contributing her own money to the cause.

“Liesl is a remarkable young girl,” Amrani-Khaldi said. “Other students can look to her for support and confidence, and she benefits tremendously from the wide range of culture and experience.”

Join Liesl in her efforts, and make a donation to UT Elementary. Every penny counts.

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