MUSCATINE — Muscatine students are helping to make the emergency room less scary for local children. To raise money for the Little Muskie Care Kits, Central Middle School 6th, 7th and 8th graders started their own business and donated care packages.

The aim is "jewelry designed for a greater good," Wendy Donald, CMS school nurse and leader of the first-time project, said Monday during a presentation before the Muscatine School Board.

From October to May, students made and sold about 220 beaded bracelets for $5 each. Muskie Spirit Jewelry was sold throughout the district and community, and raised $1,100. The group made 80 kits of toys, comfort items and activities from the funds and made their donation to UnityPoint Trinity Muscatine earlier this week.

The kits are a "huge asset" to the emergency department, said manager Penny Crowe. When children have to go to the emergency room they are entering a new environment, which may make them scared or anxious, she said. Children may also be in the hospital for an extended period or have to go through testing that can be lengthy. Providing them with something to cuddle or focus on helps. "Anything we can do to help them relax," Crowe said.

The idea started with the end in mind, Donald said. Ideas for interest groups were needed at the school to take place during student's homeroom time at the end of the day Tuesday through Friday. During that time, students can work on special projects or receive homework help.

After reading a story about a group of Massachusetts students who put together care kits for children in the ER, Donald wanted to do something similar. The story left her with a question: How did they get the money to make the kits? That's when her hobby came to mind.

Donald makes jewelry on the side for weddings and other occasions. She said students needed to make a product people would want to buy. To start, two groups of 15 kids learned about profit, the value of various jewelry products and what makes an appealing design. They also had to learn how to assemble beaded bracelets, Donald and CMS secretary Sue Jensen taught them.

Donald told the school board about a kind of quality assurance measure students would use.

"One student in the group would hold her bracelet up and say, 'Would I buy this?'" she said, and other students adopted the motto.

The first colors of beads used were Muskie purple and gold, and a soft opening for sales was held during fall conferences. To get repeat customers, Donald said, Valentine's Day theme designs were introduced to production. Winter weather made it difficult to sell the pink and red bracelets in the building due to school closings, delays and early dismissals.

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Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones and University of Northern Iowa Panthers bracelets were also made and were "a pretty good success for us," Donald said.

The jewelry was on display in front of Donald's office, which led to some sales, she said, because people saw the sparkle. She also had a "traveling tray." With parents' permission, Donald took a few students with her to other schools in the district and to organizations and businesses in the community so students could make their sales pitch. She said homeroom time was their only time to make the visits, which was a challenge.

"I did like them to get out and talk about the project," she said.

In addition to sales, students were "actively involved" in advertising and marketing, inventory, supply and demand and on a few occasions, repairing bracelets that had broken.

Jewelry-making wound down around Easter, Donald said, so the focus could turn to making the care kits. District "Parents as Teachers" staff helped identify age-appropriate items for the kits with students letting them know about trendy toys.

Of the 80 kits, 40 were for 2- to 4-year-olds, 20 were for 5- to 7-year-olds and the remaining 20 were for 8- 12-year-olds. Donald said rattles and teethers were also donated to the hospital for the youngest children.

Pam Askew, vice president of patient services at Trinity Muscatine, said it makes children's visits a little more positive. Parents are asked before kits are given to their children at the hospital, Crowe said, and because the hospital doesn't have a large pediatric population, the kits may last four to six months. They both commended the students for their work and said in the past the hospital has received donations of stuffed animals, but this was the first time care kits have been donated.

Donald said the experience was an opportunity for students to learn leadership skills, to "see what they could do."

Following the presentation at the board meeting, Superintendent Jerry Riibe said the project was "encouraging."

"All you think about is measuring student progress and performance through test scores," he said, "but measuring development of leadership and caring for other people and being a part of a community is just as important in the learning process."

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