Mt. Hebron students collecting 6 million stamps

At the end of a sterile, white hallway at Mt. Hebron High School, 18 students sit in Cyndie Fagan's ninth- and tenth-grade class, trimming and counting hundreds of thousands of stamps to add to their collection.
The students are working on an art display that will help future students visualize the figure of six million, the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Started in February 2009, the project sprang from students' desire to do a memorial-type project to supplement their reading of "Night," the Elie Wiesel book that chronicles his experiences with his father, Shlomo, in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II.

The students wanted to do something similar to the project chronicled in the 2004 film "Paper Clips," which followed the students and the community of Whitwell Middle School, in Whitwell, Tenn., who collected more than six million paper clips as a monument to Holocaust victims.

In brainstorming with the Mt. Hebron students about what to collect, the issue became what to do with the items once they were collected.

Fagan suggested stamps, which could be made into an artistic display, but also symbolize the stories and journeys of each person who died in the Holocaust.

And so, in the classroom at the end of the hallway, the students sat one recent afternoon, processing the postage. The ripped the stamps from envelopes, trimmed the paper away from the stamps and then counted and placed them in a 30-gallon plastic tub. It was nearly full.

Fagan said the goal was to collect six million stamps within three years. The school's collection now totals 338,000, which leaves more than 5.6 million stamps to go. When all of the stamps are collected, the plan is for the school's National Art Honor Society to use them to create a mural illustrating tolerance.

Tenth-grader Miles Morgan, 15, of Ellicott City, described himself as being "dedicated to the project." "It's a really great cause," he said. "People need to understand that without tolerance in the world, it's not going to grow and become a better place. If people have a positive visual in their life, the environment can be so much better, and we can get so much more accomplished.

"If we accomplished this, it would make such an impact. If they (other students) see a picture of people getting along and if they can wrap their mind around it, future generations would get along more."

Tenth-grader Ryan Smith, 15, of Ellicott City, said he, too, has been involved with the project since ninth grade.

"I thought it'd be cool to do our own thing similar to 'Paper Clips,' " he said as he trimmed stamps. Realizing that the collection isn't going to reach its goal of six million this year, Ryan said he hopes future classes have the same experience he has had, that "they learn about what goes on, the Holocaust and how many were involved."

He added, "I hope other schools across the country could do a similar project."

Fagan said the school has had a "difficult time getting word out to enough people" to submit stamps.
"Another three years might be a realistic goal" for finishing, she said. "If all of Howard County sees it, more people will get involved."

Otherwise, she added with a laugh, "at this rate, I don't know if I'll still be alive when we're done."