Though Dale Tokheim is far away from his middle school classroom at Schaller-Crestland School, serving his country in Kosovo, education is still on his mind.
On a peacekeeping mission at NATO base Camp Nothing Hill, named for the highest peak in the area near the village of Leposavic, Tokheim has had the opportunity to go into the Kosovo classrooms. He is saddened by the lack of learning supplies for the children in the schools there and conveyed this to his family and friends back at home.
It didn't take long for the seventh grade students, who had Tokheim as a social studies teacher the previous year, to come up with a plan to help.
Joe Tokheim, son of the deployed teacher and a member of this class, explained that some 1,200 supplies have been collected thus far - including pencils, notebooks, art supplies, notebooks, pencil boxes, crayons and colored pencils and back packs. Because Kosovo experiences the same types of winter weather as Iowa, warm outerwear is also important. Many pairs of gloves and mittens, hats and scarves have also been gathered.
Students in the elementary through high school as well as their families and others can give.
One week into this project, posters have been put up, radio spots have been made, donation boxes have been set out and talks by these young students have been made to other students.
"Everyone is excited," said Jodi Miller.
The students are currently reading the book, "My Brother Sam is Dead" in class and one of the questions that came up from the book, said teacher Denise Pickhinke, is "How can we help each other survive war?" The project fits in great.
The project has also been a good learning experience for the students.
"I've learned that we shouldn't always think of ourselves that there are people in other countries," said Blake Suhr.
Drew Kenny added, "I learned how lucky we are - that we have more money here and can afford new things."
Jordan Woodke has learned how important it is to value the things you have and Paul Irwin said he is glad to live in "a good country." Drew Kenny added that he believes he will forever look at the world differently because of this project and will never take anything for granted again.
Won't Tokheim be pleased to see what a learning experience this has been for his students?
The students are so thrilled to be able to connect themselves with Tokheim, so far away from them.
"He's a really good teacher," the students agreed.
Pickhinke couldn't be prouder of her 23 students. "They've done a great job," she said, adding that they have done the project with little adult guidance. "They've worked really hard."
Donation boxes are set up at each of Schaller-Crestland's schools, at Schaller's grocery store and even at Tyson in Storm Lake. You may call the school at 275-4266 for more information. Monetary donations to help in the cost of sending the packages are also being accepted ($298 has already been collected.) Michael Davidson shared that he has been scooping snow and donating the money he has made to the project. (His classmates applauded him for his efforts.)
"We're happy that everyone is participating and want to help kids like them," said Brooke Bailey, who pointed out that a good number of the items have been donated by the middle school students. After the first day, 300 items were already in the donation boxes.
The students will continue to collect items all this week and when they arrive back after their Christmas break, the items will be shipped out.
Tokheim is on his second deployment and will be back for next school year. He teaches middle school social studies, Iowa history, Quiz Bowl and is the head HS football coach.