For Deer Meadow Primary students, a lesson is growing every day -- little by little -- just inside the school's main entrance.
How much is a million?
The school has set a goal of collecting 1 million aluminum pop tabs to benefit the Ronald McDonald House of Indiana.
"We wanted the kids to see 1 million of something," Deer Meadow principal Gwen Morris said.
While schools around the state collect tabs for the charity, and hundreds of organizations have become "Collect-A-Million" Club members, Deer Meadow had a slightly different motivation after seeing a student's family benefit from the Ronald McDonald House.
On Sept. 30 of last year, 6-year-old Eli Hardwick sustained critical injuries when he darted from between two parked cars into the path of another car at Big Walnut Sports Park. Eli spent weeks recovering from his injuries at Riley Children's Hospital and Methodist Hospital, both in Indianapolis.
His parents, Laurie and Jim "Figgy" Hardwick, were with him every step of the way. Eli led them on quite a journey, making what Laurie called "a miraculous recovery."
While Jim said his son remains "bummed" about certain restrictions that remain, they are few.
"For the most part, his day-to-day activities have returned to normal," Jim said. "He's almost back to where he was before."
While his parents rarely left Eli's side, one resource available for Riley was the Ronald McDonald House, with its kitchen, laundry facilities, overnight guest rooms and the opportunity to relate to other people facing tough situations.
"It was families," Jim said. "You could hang with other people going through what you're going through."
The Hardwicks said their experiences at Riley have made them believers in the Ronald McDonald House for life.
"I don't know if I ever dropped money in that Ronald McDonald box (before the accident)," Jim said.
What they had done was collect tabs -- perhaps for a reason they didn't even realize. Laurie explained that about three years ago, knowing that kids sometimes save tabs for class, the family began a collection.
Now the Hardwick family collection sits in an oversized jar at the center of Deer Meadow's collection, the inspiration to collect even more tabs.
"We'll never forget it," Laurie said. "I'm sure we'll be supporting it for the rest of our lives."
And so goes the inspiration for the students and teachers at Deer Meadow. Explaining the situation Eli was facing to kindergartners, first- and second-graders was a daunting task. They chose to make a positive of it, though.
The goal was 1 million tabs. The tabs are valuable to the charity because they are made of a higher-grade alloy than the cans themselves. This means they pay a higher rate per pound when recycled.
With it comes the recognition of being part of the club, as well as a plaque recognizing the school on the wall of the Ronald McDonald House.
In the outpouring of support throughout the community, Deer Meadow saw the majority of the tabs currently on hand come in quickly.
"We did so much in that first five weeks and then it's tapered off," Morris said.
The rush, though, wasn't simply on the part of the Deer Meadow family. Throughout the community, other schools and organizations got involved.
In late October, Bainbridge Elementary donated an estimated 211,000 tabs. First grade teacher Kristie Hankins explained that they were already collecting the tabs, but that Eli's accident gave them an even better cause to which to donate them.
"Saving the pop tabs, first of all, is part of our recycling program," Hankins said. "We had been collecting them for quite some time.
"Then when we learned the news of Eli, we felt that this would be a great time to show our support to another student and family in the county," she added. "It was a great way to show our students the act of compassion, and it gave them a reality of what the Ronald McDonald program does for the families going through a difficult time. I think sometimes when there's a face to it, it's more of a reality to our students."
The Bainbridge staff also expressed the feelings of many parents around the county: It could have been them.
"It also touched our teachers and staff at Bainbridge knowing that this could have been easily one of us, either as the parent or as the driver of this accident," Hankins said.
Schools of all levels in all four county systems have gotten involved, along with other organizations such as Tri-Kappa, First National Bank and the Greencastle Marathon station, to name only a few.
Tabs even came from as far away as Kokomo, from Holly Custis Becker, one of Eli's preschool teachers who wanted to help. She sent her tabs to Jana Boggess, whose GHS students were also collecting.
Many have donated without wanting any recognition.
"Some people just walk in the door, drop (the tabs) there and just go," Morris said. "It's really been fun to watch happen."
The principal estimates there to be 600,000 tabs currently in the collection. They are spread out among various garbage cans and other receptacles. The goal is to have the million by the end of the school year, so donations are still encouraged.
Anyone who would like to donate may contact Deer Meadow at 653-3518.
"It turned out to be just a celebration of Eli's success because he's truly, truly been our miracle this year," Morris said.
For the Hardwicks, the miracle has extended far beyond Eli's recovery. It was also in the outpouring of love and support they got from people in the community, at the hospital and online through websites such as CaringBridge.org
"The groundswell of support is what kept us going through this," Laurie said.
Jim said whenever he gave an update on Eli's condition at CaringBridge, he signed off with "Keep the love coming." He said he is now in the process of writing a song with the phrase as its hook.
Both parents expressed how much pride they have in Greencastle and Putnam County because of the way so many people came together to support Eli and the family. They were reminded of it recently when Eli won a basketball shoot-off at halftime of a Greencastle High School game.
"We looked around McAnally and there were all these people who were with us through the entire journey," Laurie said, fighting back tears.
"It's still overwhelming to us."