# ‘I was frustrated because kids don’t understand how much a million of something is.’

The students of Roosevelt Junior High School in Glendale are conducting a valiant campaign against the corrosive effects of inflation.

By way of learning how much a million is, they are buying a baby grand piano--one penny at a time.

The piano will cost \$10,000. Anyone who has a passing facility with math can see that that is 1 million pennies.

The connection between the piano and the problem of understanding the number 1 million came up among a group of Roosevelt teachers having dinner together at a restaurant called Julio’s.

Rick Sherrick, the school’s activities director, proposed the need for a physical model of a million.

“I was frustrated because kids don’t understand how much a million of something is,” Sherrick recalled.

Teachers being teachers, one of those in the group, Jean Schaffert, turned the idea into a project for her math class. The assignment was to calculate the dimensions of a box that could hold 1 million pennies, the number of pennies each student would have to contribute to fill it, the weight when full and the amount of labor required to wrap the pennies.

The solution was to make a trial box 1 foot by 1 foot by 1 foot, fill it with pennies and do the appropriate division and addition. The box held \$400 in pennies.

Sherrick, a still-enthusiastic veteran of 18 years at Roosevelt, did his own calculation. He came up with a box of something like 28 feet long, proving that he is not a math teacher.

The correct dimensions were 5 feet long by 2 1/2 feet tall and 2 1/2 feet deep. The full weight would be 2.85 tons. That left only one question. Could they come up with the 850 pennies per student, give or take a few, required to fill such a box?

The only way to get an answer was to make one and try. Being a better motivator than mathematician, Sherrick had a ready-made goal to give the experiment intrinsic value.

Roosevelt’s 1927 piano was the only piece of musical equipment that survived the demise of the school’s music program following property tax-cutting Proposition 13. It remained at the foot of the stage in the auditorium, as accompaniment for dramatic presentations.

Recently, Sherrick said, Principal Judith White began rebuilding the music program as a vehicle for the growing number of students who speak a language other than English at home.

She brought in music teacher Stan Hatanaka, who formed a band during the summer. The Kiwanis Club pitched in for uniforms, and the school district and service clubs provided the instruments, Sherrick said.

The piano, being playable, remained in service. Its only visible defect consisted of hundreds of markings scratched by students in its aging finish. But during a Christmas concert last year, a student pianist’s rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue” exposed fatal problems when several keys got stuck and the pedals flopped ineffectively.

The bid for a new piano came in as just about a million pennies.

Early this year, Sherrick, whose duties include managing Roosevelt’s stage, used his shop experience to build a box of plexiglass and 2 by 4s.

It contained four compartments, one for each of the three grade levels and a fourth for staff.

Mounted on rubber wheels, it was rolled into a corner of the hall. Penny collection boxes were distributed to every classroom and, of course, to the service clubs.

The lessons derived from the experiment have been more complex than anticipated. In four months, the students and staff have each filled their compartments only about a third full. That’s \$3,333, a lot of money, no matter how far short of the goal.

Mixed in with the pennies are the predictable deposits of those who must challenge the rules: gum wrappers, straws, pencil stubs and an unidentifiable glob or two. There are also several dollar bills, a five and a fifty.

With the semester coming to an end, the sponsors of the penny box have had to adapt to the evidence that the box will not be filled in time.

That’s just as well actually, as Sherrick, who must roll the penny box into safekeeping every weekend, would not have been able to budge 2.85 tons.

“It’s flattened the rubber wheels,” he lamented.

So the final lesson devised by the teachers was the concept of leveraging a small investment.

“We’ve got enough to make a good down payment,” Sherrick said. “We’re hoping to get it by the end of the school year if we can swing some kind of financing.”

Even in its incompleteness, the experiment will end with a flourish as armed guards come to the school to remove the pennies in moneybags for counting by the district’s penny machine, he said.

No need to worry that the shortfall will give students the wrong idea about the value of a penny.

The school’s leadership class has decided that the box will be put back in service in the fall.