WALTON — That dull roar made up of the intense cheering at about 1:22 p.m. May 18 emanating from the gymnasium of the Walton Rural Life Center wasn't about a game-winning, buzzer beating shot on the basketball floor. It was, in the eyes of many, about something much more important.
Students had just learned how much money the school raised for disaster recovery efforts in Ashland, Kansas.
"We wanted to take a moment and acknowledge everyone's hard work," said principal Jason Chalashtari. "We wanted you all to think about helping other people, and helping other communities. That is an important part of what we we do here at Walton. ... It feels pretty good to help people, doesn't it?"
In this case, students raised more than $2,425 for Ashland — a Kansas community ravaged by one of the largest wildfires in the history of the state.
Those funds are enough to purchase 61 round hay bales, or 241 fence posts, with the money. One of those fenceposts was already at the school — signed by everyone who had participated in the fund-raisers this spring. It will go on display in a community center in Ashland.
Since the founding of the charter school about a decade ago, the school has been dedicated to bringing agriculture to the classroom. This spring that dedication to agriculture came out in a new way — raising money for the victims of a wildfire that killed grass land, burned homes and destroyed cattle herds in Kansas.
In March thousands of acres of farm ground went up in smoke in the Ashland area. According to the Ashland Community Foundation, more than 461,000 acres in Clark County and 13,000 acres in Comanche County were decimated by what is known as the Starbuck Wildfire — the largest wildfire in state history.
The fire actually burned farm ground in three counties in southwestern Kansas, south of Dodge City. According to kansasagland.com, as many as 9,000 cattle were lost along with dozens of homes and ranches. According to the Kansas Rural Center, 85 percent of the land in Clark County — the home of Ashland — burned.
The foundation states recovery efforts will take years, and “tens of millions” of dollars.
The Walton Rural Life Center chose to provide some of those funds. Students donated funds from “Pickles and Pencils” sales at the school and a “Pennies for Pastures” change collection at at the school. Those two efforts raised more than $1,122 for the recovery effort. The remainder of the funds raised came from a social event May 5, “Barbecue and Bluegrass.”
May 18 ,students had an assembly to celebrate. Impending weather kept representatives of the Ashland community home, though they had planned on being in Walton to say thank you. Instead, Walton students were treated to a video made by the community thanking donors from across the nation and world who have come forward to assist with recovery efforts.
After that video, Chalashtari, with the help of students, revealed the amount raised by the school.