What's a penny worth? At the Children's Storefront School in Harlem, a lot more than meets the eye.
"We are going to have a billion pennies in Harlem," Steve Bergen told his class to surprised replies of "In Harlem?"
Bergen, a computer teacher, launched the penny project to help students grasp huge numbers, in part because the students had heard the words billion and trillion more and more often in the news.
They say they really are learning math from collecting all those pennies. And they seem to teach Bergen a thing or two. They calculated that while a million pennies would fit in a classroom, a billion pennies would take up the entire street.
So the first goal is a million pennies or $10,000.
The Children's Storefront is a private school that doesn't charge tuition. It depends on donations to meet its annual budget of $4 million, so the penny project, which began as a math lesson, quickly became a fundraising tool.
"$10,000 would be extremely helpful to us. That would go right back into our operating expenses and would help pay someone's salary," said Kathy Egmont, head of the Children's Storefront School.
"Eighty-five percent of our kids come from below the poverty line," Bergen said. "By getting them to connect the pennies with Obama's stimulus package, we are in effect getting them to create a stimulus package here in Harlem."
I order to reach their goal of a million pennies, Bergen reached out to other schools.
They've talked via the Internet phone service Skype to counterparts from Rhode Island to Germany, each school offering a donation of pennies - and a cultural exchange.
So far, the students have raised 55,000 pennies. It's not a lot of money, but, Bergen says, that's not the point.
"The whole metaphor here is that little things add up," he said - a valuable lesson for children everywhere.