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Take Note: Penny pinching pays off for students

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The old schoolyard taunt of finders keepers, losers weepers doesn't have quite so much currency in an Indianapolis suburban elementary school these days.

Instead of tears, a penny heist at the school last month has netted huge profits for the children who were victimized.

Smack in the middle of "caring month" at the Greenbriar Elementary School, burglars took an estimated 80,000 pennies, which students had been stashing in a three-foot-square plastic container for months.

Children and teachers arrived at school to find that the penny well had been cleaned out, robbing them of the money they were saving to pay for an artist-in-residence, a cultural arts program, computer software, and whatever else they might need.

The perpetrators left computers and bypassed other valuables in order to stuff pillow cases and sacks with the pennies, which weighed an estimated 450 pounds. School officials said the thieves didn't leave a single cent behind.

In this case, though, the crime did pay. As news of the coin caper circulated, pennies started rolling in from across the country.

A Chicago businessman shipped 80,000 pennies to the school overnight, eliciting excitement from the students and sympathy from the school employees who watched a deliveryman heft 16 boxes of pennies into the school. The author Judy Blume sent a letter, a contribution, and three autographed children's books.

And another school in Indiana asked its pupils to help collect pennies for the Greenbriar students--the busy children rounded up 23,000 in two days.

Last week, the school's new penny well was unveiled. It was filled with the 500,000 pennies that have arrived at Greenbriar.

"I told our kindergartners, this shows that for every individual that doesn't care, there are thousands who do," said Vickie Davis, the principal of the 618-student K-5 school. "It's been a wonderful lesson."

As for justice, it appears that it may be the culprits who, to coin a phrase, wind up penniless. A 20-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman were charged with the theft after bank tellers noted their huge penny transactions.

Ms. Davis said the school had earlier cashed in $1,000 worth of pennies at a local bank. With the recent donations, she said, the school is well on its way to its $10,000 goal.

--Lonnie Harp

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