The Paper Clips Project

Have you ever had a school project that grew...and grew and grew and grew? Students at a middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee, surely did! In 1998, Whitwell's eighth grade students started a new class after school. The students learned about the Holocaust, which took place in Nazi Germany during the time of World War II. When students learned that six million Jewish people were "exterminated" by the Germans, they found that number hard to grasp. They asked if they could make a collection of six million things. They wanted to see for themselves what six million of something looked like. Whitwell's principal agreed IF the students collected something that would give meaning to the project.

Students did research on the Internet. They found that during WWII, people in Norway wore paper clips on their clothes. It was a silent protest against what the Nazis were doing. The Germans forced Jews to wear yellow stars. So the people of Norway began to wear paper clips.

Whitwell students began bringing in paper clips. After a few weeks, they only had about one thousand. They knew they'd have to try harder to get six million. They wrote letters asking well-known people to donate a paper clip. Students wrote letters to sports heroes and film stars. Letters were written to people in politics and business. Soon paper clips came pouring in. Most were sent in by "normal" people. Some, however, were donated by names regularly in the news. Actors Tom Hanks and Henry Winkler, former president Bill Clinton, and director Steven Spielberg, to name a few, sent paper clips. Football players from Tampa Bay and Dallas sent paper clips, too. Most people sent a letter along with the paper clip.

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