How do you learn about cool animals, become world citizens, and give to those less fortunate than you?

Simple, say the kids at Brooklyn Park's Monroe Elementary School for Mathematics, Science, and Children's Engineering: You pool your pocket change and buy the animals for those in need. Guided by second-grade teacher Joan Campe, the 500 kids at the school joined the school staff as participants in Heifer International. That's an organization that collects donations, buys animals and sends them to families in the United States and other countries that need them most.

"Rather than giving food or money to poor areas around the world, it's giving them things such as cows and chickens or llamas, different kinds of animals that can help improve life in terms of education and hunger in the area," said Doug Paulson, the school's integration and magnet program coordinator.

Campe herself was one of 20 American teachers who traveled to Honduras last summer to see firsthand how Heifer International works, then returned to their schools to spread the word about the program. Her second-grade class collected funds for Heifer International for two years before the effort went schoolwide.

Over the past several weeks, the students have been learning about the project and how the animals are used, and starting to think about which animals they wanted to buy. Each animal or set of animals carries a different pricetag. A heifer, for instance, is $500. A water buffalo (which can pull a plow and give milk) goes for $250. A llama costs $150, a flock of ducks $20, and so on. That meant the kids had to raise money.

"I suggested they do chores around the house or give part of their allowance," Campe said. Another handy source of donation cash was the change kids brought to purchase goodies from the school treat cart. Fundraising went on for 10 days recently. By the time it was over, Campe said, the students had raised close to $4,000.

"Then, each class decides which animal they want to buy," Campe said. "They had to debate each other, and they learned what a goat would do ... and all that."

In the end, Campe said, her class went for the heifer, pooling the $300 they raised with another $200 raised by other school employees to seal the deal. The rest of the menagerie to be donated by the school includes two water buffaloes, eight goats, one pig, 12 flocks of geese and ducks, five "trios" of rabbits, 15 flocks of chickens, and 15 beehives.

Campe said the kids don't know where their animals will wind up; they are allotted based on judgments about where the farming and nutrition needs are direst. She said 125 countries benefit, and that includes some impoverished parts of the United States, even in Minnesota.

"It's a good children's giving," Campe said. "Because they can see what it is they're giving instead of just giving money."

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547