FRENCHTOWN – Once they heard about a way to help create job and education opportunities for people in Central America, Frenchtown Junior High School's students knew they had to get on board.
They're the first school in Montana to work with the Pulsera Project, a nonprofit that takes all of the money from pulsera – bracelet – sales in U.S. schools and uses it to help fund secondary education, university scholarships, housing programs, youth shelter support, workers' rights advocacy and environmental initiatives in Central America.
The handwoven bracelets are created by about 100 artists in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Eighth-grader Lindsey Knight's aunt, a teacher in Maine, introduced her to the idea.
"We found out that Montana hadn't done it yet, so I thought it would be really cool if I brought it to my school," Knight said.
This week, a group of junior high students has set up a booth in the hallway, selling the brightly colored bracelets to their peers. Each one comes with a note about the artist who made it, their photo and a description of what the money will be used for.
"I’ve learned that there are people out there that have less than we do and it’s a good thing to help other people that don’t have as many opportunities as you," she said. "It’s really cool ... that we can take something they love and help them, help their lifestyle."
The Pulsera Project has raised more than $2 million since it was founded in 2009.
About 1,300 schools have worked with the project during that time. For the past two years, though, Montana was the only state in which a school hadn't participated.
"Once we did the research, the kids made the decision how to execute the program and do the sale," said junior high teacher Tony Davis.
It's primarily a humanitarian effort, he said, but the students also learned the business side, including marketing and advertising.
"It really brings out in them their character as individuals and just despite such chaotic times, that they really do have a genuine desire to help others around them," Davis said. "It's very pleasing to see the amount of effort they've put forth in trying to organize such an event."
As class let out Wednesday, students streamed through the hallways and a large group gathered at the Pulsera Project booth, most of them reaching into their wallets to grab a few dollars for a bracelet or two. In less than a week, the junior high students have sold 150 of the 500 bracelets they were given.
Next week, it's the high school students' turn.
"We saw what a great cause it was, so we immediately agreed," said Trevor Finney, who serves on the high school student council.
Typically, a student council's fundraisers benefit the school. They've never done something like this before, he said.
"I think the Pulsera Project will encourage us to do more for different countries and our community, rather than just our school," said student council member Natalie Bova. "It really lets us see how privileged we are. It helps us to know that we can actually make a difference in somebody's life, which is a really cool feeling."
The student council plans to show students a video about the project during their advisory period. They're creating posters and they'll talk about it during morning announcements. Finney said they'll do the sale during lunch, and they plan to sell in the library, too, where students congregate.
"When you think about other students in other countries, it's hard for them to have a normal education like us," Finney said. "This project could help them have more of a normal life."
To learn more about the project, go to pulseraproject.org.