RACINE — Clad in “Star Wars” garb from head to toe, Red Apple Elementary School art teacher Jeff Ruggaber led his students in reciting quotes from the movie series to quiet them down before a Wednesday assembly began.
“My favorite quote is Yoda’s ‘do or do not. There is no try,’” Ruggaber said. “Try it. Do it. If you fail, you learn from your mistakes.”
The assembly served as the culminating event in a nearly yearlong “Star Wars” celebration for Red Apple students, which ended with the 300 students raising $2,385 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that works to grant travel and gift requets for terminally and seriously ill children. During Wednesday’s assembly, a group of Red Apple students presented a check to Make-A-Wish Community Outreach Coordinator Kelsey Rice in front of the entire school body.
“It’s one thing for adults to recognize the importance of helping little kids, but I think it’s really special to see the kids helping kids, especially with the passion they put into it,” Rice said.
Ruggaber’s students’ work with “Star Wars” began in November, when he told them about R2-KT, a droid (robot) made by a famous “Star Wars” fan named Albin Johnson for his terminally ill daughter, Katie. While Katie succumbed to brain cancer, KT the droid has appeared in multiple “Star Wars” movie productions, including December’s release of “The Force Awakens.”
“Once I found out that KT was going to be in the movie that was coming out in December, I said ‘art project,’ “ Ruggaber said.
So every student in his classes designed their own version of KT, which itself is based on popular droid R2-D2 from the original “Star Wars” films. Some students added designs representing charitable causes, such as cancer research, to their droid art pieces, and the projects now line the wall of the school, 914 St. Patrick St.
However, since R2-KT also tours conventions and hospitals working with Make-A-Wish, Ruggaber also involved the students in a two-month fundraiser. On Star Wars Day, celebrated every year on May 4 as a play on the famous phrase “may the force be with you,” he announced that the students had more than doubled their $1,000 goal.
“They were big into it on their own, a lot of them,” Ruggaber said. “I hope that this project can show the good that a lot of ‘Star Wars’ fans do.”
In the process, Ruggaber hopes “Star Wars” taught his students something as well.
“We always say here at Red Apple, fail means ‘first attempt in learning,’ he said. “When they’re watching a ‘Star Wars’ episode, those characters never give up.”