Penny Wars Controversy

By: Yulia Nakagome

Since the International High School (IHS) program was established at South in 1984, IHS and Classic South have always had a healthy bit of rivalry. Most recently, students went head to head over “Penny Wars.”

The Penny Wars is a generally well-received fundraising competition that pits classes against one another in a race to raise the most money. Each penny amounts to a positive point for your class, while anything higher, including other coins and cash, amount to negative points. A student can sabotage another class with a simple nickel — what’s not to like? The IHS students certainly do, so much so in fact, that some were unhappy when Classic South used their own version of the fundraiser in late February.

Prior to this year, Penny Wars was exclusively an IHS tradition. Every year, IHS students raise thousands of dollars for a charity or cause of their choice. This year was no different. After celebrating their success, IHS students prepared to close up shop until next year when they heard the term “Penny Wars” floating around the hallways again much earlier than they had anticipated.

“When I first heard Penny Wars was going to be happening at Classic South and not just IHS, I was amused,” Isaac Lee, an IHS sophomore said. “The reason Penny Wars has been so successful in IHS is because it is a small community that can be more easily impacted than classic high school.”

This rang true, based on the money that each Penny Wars fundraiser collected. The IHS students raised $3,000 in two weeks this year for Food for Lane County, while the school-wide Penny Wars raised just $543.77 over three days.

While Classic South raised substantially less money, both were very successful in supporting worthy causes. Still, some IHS students found fault with Classic South’s lack of originality.

“From the IHS side, Penny Wars has been around for seven years, and this tradition has become part of the IHS identity. I personally think that the conflict comes from a general feeling that host campuses brush aside IHS and don’t give recognition to the program,” said senior and IHS student government member Sophia Dossin.

That said, Dossin is not opposed to the fundraiser starting at Classic South, as long as it respects the existing IHS Penny Wars.

“In the future, I would love to see Classic South do more Penny Wars fundraisers because they really work! Two pieces of advice I would give to Classic student government, however, are to coordinate with IHS student government to show acknowledgement of our tradition and change the name! It’s more original, shows respect to IHS, and I guarantee it will bring in more money, since more IHS kids will feel inclined to donate,” Dossin said.

Tiffany Huang, a sophomore and IHS student government member, said that the end result of helping others should overshadow such feelings of animosity.

“I know that a lot of IHS kids were unhappy with Penny Wars and ‘boycotted’ it,” said Huang. “I thought that was stupid because all the money went to the Axemen Angels, so it’s weird that they wouldn’t donate to charity.”

A boycott ensued nonetheless.

“When student government members went around classes to collect money, apparently some kids refused to donate because it was ‘stolen from IHS’,” said junior and South student government member Erika Parisien. “Also, during the assembly, there were lots of people chanting ‘IHS!’ when Rosemary was trying to talk about Penny Wars.”

I personally think that the conflict comes from a general feeling that host campuses brush aside IHS and don’t give recognition to the program

Sophia Dossin

Other IHS students have milder opinions. Though some may have done a double take when they heard “Penny Wars” being mentioned in the announcements, they did not have much of a problem with the competition starting at Classic South.

“I think it’s beneficial to whoever gets the money because obviously with the whole school participating, you gather more money,” IHS sophomore Nour Aboelez said.

This proved to be untrue in the case of Penny Wars, because the IHS Penny Wars did in fact raise more. However, if the two Penny Wars continue in conjunction with each other, it will bring in more money overall than if only one fundraiser were to happen.

Classic South student government viewed the popular fundraiser as a means of supporting charitable groups at school by raising money, rather than a stab at IHS traditions.

“We started a new nonprofit organization at South called Axemen Angels, and we wanted to do a fundraiser for it, and we chose to do Penny Wars because it is a fun, competitive way to raise money,” Parisien said. “However, a large amount of IHS people were really unhappy that Classic South started doing it as well, since it’s been an IHS tradition. I understand where they’re coming from, but Classic South didn’t see a problem with doing it, since it’s for the sake of charity. Also, IHS didn’t invent Penny Wars.”

When student government members went around classes to collect money, apparently some kids refused to donate because it was “stolen from IHS.”

Erika Parisien

This is true. Penny Wars is not unique to IHS. Penny wars (or penny drives) are relatively common techniques used by schools because students seem to be fueled to raise more money when fundraisers are structured as a competition between classes.

In the wake of the conflict within the student body, even administrators got involved. According to Huang, Lisa Joye, the head of IHS student government, emailed vice principal Heather Stein about the controversy.

Even with the disapproval of the IHS student government, it appears that the Penny Wars are set to continue at Classic South next year.

“Despite the large amount of people who were upset or refused to participate, the outcome of the fundraiser was quite successful,” says Parisien. “It’s very possible it’ll happen again in future years.”

Maybe then, IHS and Classic South will Penny War in peace.


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