Going over and above for ‘Down Under’

Ella Bohm, right, showcases her poster that reads “Help save Australian animals” alongside fourth grade teacher Marla Staton Tuesday at Byron Elementary School.

BYRON — During a school day in mid-January, Ella Bohm first learned of the wildfires plaguing Australia, and for the 9-year-old Byron Elementary student, the news warranted action.

“People were talking about koalas, they were getting hurt along with other animals,” Bohm said. “As soon as I went home, I made a poster and I told Mrs. (Marla) Staton about it.”

Within a matter of days, Bohm and her fourth-grade classmates were meeting with members of Byron High School’s student council in an effort to develop a fundraiser to support the injured wildlife that have been displaced by the blaze.

On Jan. 31, fourth-grade volunteers and student council members conducted two “60 seconds of change” events, one during each of Byron’s home varsity basketball games, as both the girls and boys team faced off against Chesaning.

During each “60 seconds of change” period, Bohm and her classmates carried buckets into the bleachers, gathering monetary donations from local residents in attendance.

The students raised $626 for the cause, according to Staton, with all funds going to the Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors, a nonprofit founded by Terri and the late Steve Irwin that aims to protect injured, threatened or endangered wildlife.

“I thought this was a great way for our elementary students to see their vision come to life with a little help from the older students,” high school teacher and student council advisor Mandi Davis said via email. “Our student council had the idea but they brought it to life. It was great to see the enthusiasm of the fourth grade students.”

Bohm, who had no specific fundraising goal from the beginning, said she was shocked by the outpouring of support.

“It was just, ‘Wow,’ like I can’t believe that we raised over $500,” Bohm said. “I liked how my classmates pitched in. I didn’t really care how much it was as long as we could give it to Australia to help those cute animals.”

For Staton, Bohm’s effort embodied what the school is trying to instill with its Positivity Project, a weekly activity in which students learn about — and try to practice — specific character traits such as gratitude, kindness and love.

“I’m really proud of Ella,” Staton said. “She’s always been a caring, helpful person. Our focus last week (with the Positivity Project) was supporting those in need, and I just think it was really awesome that she stepped out and wanted to support those that needed help.”

“The fact that the community contributed so much to this cause is amazing,” Davis added. “I think it really gives those students the feeling that they can invoke change; they can make a difference. It empowered these students and supports the mindset that other people, and animals, matter — even those far beyond the reaches of our village community.”

To date, Australia’s wildfires have killed approximately 33 people and have destroyed more than 3,000 homes, according to the Associated Press. Adding to the devastation, the World Wildlife Fund in Australia estimated in early January that nearly 1 billion animals may have perished directly or indirectly as a result of the wildfires.

Bohm, who aspires to be a veterinarian when she grows up, said she’s grateful to have the support of so many in the Byron community, and she’s happy to be lending a helping hand to the many wounded animals in Australia.

“I feel bad that they’re going through this right now,” Bohm said. “I want to save as many animals as we can.”

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