Little school kids with a dream,
Impossible to you, it might seem.
To put back on a lighthouse top,
Until it’s on, we won’t stop.
Started with 8 pennies in a jar,
$5,000 raised so far.
Pennies for Piedras, we call it,
For the tower to be retrofit.
Piedras Blancas Light Station,
Is our dream and our mission!
These were the words performed by the Grover Heights Lighthouse Club at the July ceremony to commemorate the legislation signifying Piedras Blancas Light Station as an Outstanding Natural Area. This light station is located on a 19 acre point of land near San Simeon on the central California coast. Since 200l it has been operated by Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Grover Heights Lighthouse Club from Grover Heights Elementary School is now in their fourth year of their Pennies for Piedras campaign. These students live over an hour away from "their" lighthouse, but that has not hampered them in fulfilling their greatest wish. That is, to have the lantern room and tower restored to its original 114 feet. Since 1949 the tower measures 74 feet and currently uses a modern VRB-25 rotating beacon. An earthquake off shore the last day of 1948 caused additional damage to this structure, and the decision was made to truncate the tower. On their first field trip to Piedras Blancas Light Station in 2006, the children took a donation of $360.30. They felt so sorry for the woebegone tower and said, "This lighthouse really needs us!" So they continued their quest for its restoration and thus far have donated $5,280.01 to the Piedras Blancas Light Station Association. Conner Sandman came up with the Pennies for Piedras campaign while completing his model and poster projects. He quickly discovered that he was the only one in the classroom researching a tower without a top. Now a sixth grader, Conner had this to say about the Pennies for Piedras campaign, "I am shocked that my idea lasted more than one year."
As their campaign entered its fourth year, the outreach to other school children became more apparent. The club members want all school kids to have similar lighthouse studies and experiences. They helped their teacher and club advisor Mrs. Libby Anderson "field test" books, activities, DVDs, and posters as to their content and relevance. These young pharologists have many hours of lighthouse study, first in Mrs. Anderson’s classroom during an integrated unit on lighthouses, and now, in weekly club meetings. It was natural for them to feel confident enough to reject books and tell Mrs. Anderson when she had wasted her money. The final products, with most of the funding provided by BLM, are two Lighthouse Treasure Chests, one for students in grades first through third, and the other, for grades fourth through sixth. When these materials are checked out to teachers, the children refer to them as being "out to sea."
Another outreach project is the donation of sixteen wooden toys. These nostalgic toys include whirligig, Jacob’s ladder, cup and ball, and the game of Graces. The club members wrote up the history and playing instructions. Each has its own drawstring tied canvas bag made by the children and one of the club member’s grandmothers. These toys will be available during school tours, but the club members are quick to add that adults love to play with them too.
The Pennies for Piedras kids have a visible presence at this 134 year old light station. BLM Park Manager Jim Boucher ordered plaques and sea mammal skulls. Each plaque says "funding for this interpretive display provided by the Pennies of Piedras Campaign, Grover Heights Elementary School Lighthouse Club". The skulls of the sea lion, sea otter, harbor seal, and elephant seal are synthetic and are used by the guides on public and school tours. These recognitions at the light station make the children feel that they are always there, even though they are 61 miles away.
What is next for these little school kids with a dream? For sure, it will be their continued commitment. They are "dialed in" as Jim Boucher says. They truly believe that they can save a piece of valuable history, one penny at a time.
If you wish to know more about Pennies for Piedras, you may contact Libby Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story appeared in the
June 2009 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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