WHEATON – Feel like a million bucks. Thanks a million. One in a million. The million dollar question.
One million pop tabs.
That last one might not be a known idiom, but it's part of the conversation for second grade students at Wiesbrook Elementary School in Wheaton, thanks to teacher Elaine Cimino.
"Another teacher and I were talking at lunch one day, and I was telling her that kids in my class always say 'Oh, I have a million of those,'" she said. "I didn't think they had a concept of what a million actually is."
So Cimino decided to show them.
During the last eight years, she has worked with her students to collect one million pop tabs and officially reached the number earlier this year. Cimino and last year's class, which brought the total to one million, completed the count at a school-wide assembly on the first day of class on Aug. 23, according to a news release from Community Unit School District 200.
Cimino decided to donate the several hundred dollars raised from the pop tabs to the Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing near medical centers for families whose sick children have been hospitalized.
Cimino said she decided on the charity in part because she grew up next to a Ronald McDonald House in Rochester, Minn. and because the organization shared her love for and appreciation of children.
The second grade class that helped Cimino count up the total came to understand the seemingly infinite nature of one million while they were counting, she said.
"They counted around 30,000 a day and they were surprised they could count that many and said 'Hey, we're near a million!'" she said. "So I wrote the number 30,000 and the number one million on the board and they said 'Oh...we're not that close at all.'"
The sheer size of the number caught Cimino by surprise as well. At one point, she had 17 boxes filled with half a million pop tabs in her garage.
"[The kids] had a hard time grasping the vastness of that number, but sometimes even we don't really know how large it is," she said.