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Milton High School juniors Nicole Troutman, left, and Kristin Shoop show the remaining gap in fund raising for Team Cambodia, the project to build a school in Kampong Cham, Cambodia. So far, Milton students and community volunteers have raised over $25,000 for the project.

MILTON — The Coke bottle tote board outside Michael Conn’s classroom at Milton Area High School isn’t quite full yet, but it’s getting close.

The bottle is filled to the $25,000 mark, within striking distance of the $30,000 goal for the school’s “Team Cambodia” fundraiser.

The Coke bottle is a bit of a joke by students involved in the project who know of Conn’s affinity for the sugary soft drink. A popular social studies teacher, Conn started the project after visiting Cambodia last summer. He came away profoundly moved by the poverty and lack of education he saw there. Many teachers were among the 2 million Cambodians murdered by the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1970s, leaving the country without an education system.

Conn learned of a program run by an American expatriate to build schools in the country, and he pitched the idea of raising funds to Milton students. What happened next was nothing short of inspiring, Conn said.

Students throughout the school district, from kindergarten on up, took the project to heart. With help from their teachers, the students came up with a host of fundraising ideas, and since December, have raised more than $25,000, with more coming in every day.

“There’s been tremendous participation from students and parents,” Conn said. “People have bought into this. They think it’s a good idea.”

When the first $15,000 was raised, Team Cambodia selected a village where the school will be built.

“We know the school will be built in Kampong Cham in southeastern Cambodia near the Mekong River and the border with Vietnam,” Conn said last week.

Everything from spaghetti dinners to dances to a volleyball tournament have brought in dollars, and several students have spoken before community civic groups, churches and other organizations, receiving additional donations.

First-graders did chores at home, Conn said, and raised $1,300. A penny war at the high school brought in more than $2,500, and a student-teacher fun day at the middle school raised $830.

Students designed a Team Cambodia T-shirt with the logo “Educate Cambodia” and have sold hundreds. Others have made individual donations.

“This is not an affluent community,” Conn said, “but they are compassionate, and the way they have come together is spectacular.”

He said people in Lewisburg, Sunbury, Danville and Northumberland have also sent in donations.

“One woman sent $2,” he said. “She said she was on Social Security and that was all she could afford.”

Several additional events have been scheduled to try to raise the remaining $5,000, and Conn is confident that by the end of May, the $30,000 goal will be reached. A volleyball tournament currently under way is expected to bring in $1,000.

A Cut-A-Thon is scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at A Cut Above on Route 15 in Lewisburg. On May 3, an outdoor concert in Alumni Stadium, featuring high school Principal Bryan Noaker’s band Milltown Blues, as well as several other bands, is also upcoming.

With the balance of the $30,000 in hand, along with matching funds from the World Bank, teachers of English, composition, math and science will be assigned to the school. A satellite link, desks, textbooks in the Khmer language and other supplies will be furnished, and a well will be dug.

“As far as I can tell, Milton is the only public school in the U.S. to do this,” Conn said. “We’re all very proud of that.”

The school in Kampong Cham will be named the Milton School in honor of its benefactors.

“I hope to take a small group of students to Cambodia next December to attend the dedication of the school,” Conn said.

n E-mail comments to wlaepple@dailyitem.com

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