Crane students start their Respond-A-Thon run. (Teresa Pietsch)
Crane seventh-grader, Audrey Gifford.

Crane seventh-grader, Audrey Gifford. (Elizabeth Karlsberg)

March 23 was the last day of school before students at Crane Country Day School were set to head off for spring break, yet they had one important assignment they wanted to complete.

It didn’t involve homework. It didn’t require writing a paper or even reading a book, but it did mean they had to lace up their running shoes.

The assignment, albeit optional, was Crane’s first ever Respond-A-Thon and Spirit Day.

Whether they sprinted, jogged or walked, each student who participated had the same idea: to raise money for some of the key organizations that supported Santa Barbara County residents in the wake of the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow disasters.

The all-school fundraiser was the brainchild of Crane staff/faculty member Hayward Kwit, who described it as “a spirit rally, jog-a-thon and philanthropic event all rolled into one fantastic day.”

Many of the runners donned their favorite green-and-white Crane garb. Seventh-grader Audrey Gifford showed her true spirit, painting her face in school colors, decorating her hair with green ribbons, and wearing a beloved, green Crane sports jersey.

“We were asked to run as many laps as we could in 30 minutes,” said Gifford, her cheeks still rosy from her efforts. “We ran around the parking lot, basketball courts and black top.

“I hope the money we raise will help the organizations either get new equipment or be able to buy more food, supplies or medicine.

“They helped people when everyone was evacuated, so this will help them cover the costs of that and be able to help more people in the future if they need it.”

Kwit, who teaches the school’s service learning classes and advises its extracurricular Service Learning Club, said that when she presented the Respond-A-Thon idea to the club’s members, they jumped at the idea.

The Service Learning Club members, comprised primarily of Crane eighth-graders “are kids who are passionate about service,” Kwit said.

“They’d been looking for a way to do something after the tragic events of Jan. 9, but they also wanted it to be an activity where every Crane student could participate,” she said.

And participate, they did. A few threatening storm clouds didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the runners, who were showered with confetti blasts as they began the designated course.

Despite a mandatory evacuation order that had closed the school’s campus for the prior three days, and despite the impending spring break, Crane staff reported a majority of its students showed up for the Respond-A-Thon.

The funds raised will benefit the Santa Barbara County Animal Services, the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, Direct Relief International, Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue, and the Unity Shoppe.

Supporting the service organizations that had given (and continue to give) so much to their community was a priority for these children and teens.

According to school officials, all of Crane’s students — kindergarteners to eighth graders — learn the importance of service Each class has some element of service embedded in its curriculum.

The youngest pupils made cards for Meals on Wheels recipients this year. Other grades made Valentine’s Day heart garlands for The Friendship Center. With each successive grade, students receive more hands-on opportunities to serve the community.

During the final two years at Crane, in seventh and eighth grades, service-learning classes are part of the curriculum. In those classes, students explore volunteerism and learn about philanthropy in greater depth, Kwit said.

“We say at Crane that the kids learn how to use their time, talent and/or treasures for the benefit of others,” Kwit said.

The older students study the specifics of how a service organization operates — who or what it seeks to help, the group’s personnel and volunteer structure, and its funding goals.

As well as learning about local groups, the students explore national and international groups. They then vote on which groups they’d like to support, then plan volunteer activities and fundraising projects to meet the goals they’ve set.

“We learned more about these service organizations in a school assembly,” said seventh-grader Kendall Kopeikin. “We also wrote thank-you notes, which I think helps the organizations, too. It lets them know that we realize and appreciate their efforts.”

“Crane does a lot that’s service oriented,” said eighth-grader Evan Aitcheson. “I just think it’s really nice that we’re doing this for the groups that helped the people affected by the fire and flooding.”

“We live close to where stuff happened [during the Jan. 9 debris flow], and so every single day, we usually see the devastation. And I feel like Evan that since we’re part of the community, we should actually participate in it,” said Rhys Zemeckis, Aitcheson’s classmate.

Fore more about Crane Country Day School, call 969-7732 of visit

— Elizabeth Karlsberg for Crane School.