State School Children Heed the Call to Help Hurricane Katrina Victims
In the wake of one of the worst natural disasters ever to strike the U.S., school children from around the state are helping to make life better for those who have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina by way of fund raising projects and food and necessity collections.
The hundreds of evacuees that have made their way to the state are being welcomed by thousands of school children throughout the commonwealth who have done everything from collecting money for the Red Cross to bringing canned goods and books to school to be distributed to local, state and federal relief centers.
Jill Payne is the Family Resource Coordinator at Franklin County’s Elkhorn Elementary School and has headed up that school’s collection activities.
“The entire school has been busy and involved,” she said. “I think it’s important to instill in our children the act of giving. The children are helping, not for a reward but just because they want to help.”
Breea Penny is a third grade student at Elkhorn and has helped not only in collecting items but sorting them for distribution as well.
“When I think about the people who need help because they’ve lost their homes, it makes me want to help,” she said.
Penny’s classmate Trey Thomas echoed her feelings.
“I learned about the hurricane by watching the news on television,” he said. “I wanted to help when I saw the people there holding up signs saying they needed help.”
Collins Lane Elementary, also in Franklin County has not only initiated a series of activities through their Family Resource Center and its director Brian Murphy, but through the after school program, know as Cougar Corner and its director Betty Kelly.
“We are involved in community service projects throughout the year and our parents and children were eager to help,” said Kelly. “We have collected school supplies to send not only locally but to wherever there is a need. I’m really proud of the school; whenever we ask, the parents always respond.”
“Our students have watched the disaster on television and that can sometimes cause them to be afraid, but once they understand that they are safe, it makes them want to help the ones who have been affected by this,” said Murphy.
Collins Lane has collected money, had bake sales and coin drives. One student even raised over $200 holding a yard sale.
Peyton Silva is a fifth grade student at the school and a member of school’s Youth Student Leaders which has helped in collecting items and counting the collected money.
“I feel like what we are doing will make a difference,” she said. “I can’t imagine what a hurricane is like but I hope we can help all the people.”
Southside Elementary School Principal Ronnie Dotson in Pike County said the first thing that fourth and fifth graders on the school’s Student Leadership Council brought up at their meeting was helping the hurricane survivors. Each homeroom in the school of kindergarten through fifth grade collected money at home and from a few local businesses. Dotson said usually when they raise money for a charity at the school, the classes will compete for a prize such as a pizza party but to his surprise, they didn’t want a reward this time.
“They were so touched by what they had seen on TV and heard that they didn’t want to get anything. They didn’t feel it would be right to take anything for themselves,” Dotson said.
The approximately 550 students raised and donated $5,462 to the local American Red Cross. “The kids said we’ve got to do something to help them. I was real proud of their initiative in doing it and wanting to help. It was such a success,” Dotson said.
The principal said it was “heart touching” to see the students concern about where the students affected by the hurricane would go to school. He said the school counselor has talked to them about how the government is helping the children and about their feelings about the disaster.
Southside fifth-grade student Cody Dean said seeing people lose their homes made him sad but being able to give money to them “makes me feel a lot better inside.”
Seeing a child being rescued from a rooftop in New Orleans by a helicopter was one image that has stuck in Dean’s mind. “They have had a natural disaster and people have lost their lives and children have lost their parents. They (the children) don’t have a place to get a good education, they do not have much food or water and some need medicine and doctors,” he said.
Millard Middle School Principal Tommy Thornsberry’s students also felt compelled to give. Teacher Alina Williamson organized the fourth through eight grade students at the Pike County school and they worked together with area churches to buy and send $10,000 worth of needed supplies by U-haul to the damaged areas. In three days the school’s nearly 550 students also collected $1,235 and donated it to the local American Red Cross. Thornsberry said this comes from a school where about 85 percent of the students qualify for the federal free lunch program.
Thornsberry said the students can relate to flooding damage because every family in the area has been affected by flooding either directly or indirectly. “We’re in an area of Eastern Kentucky that has many floods. Flooding is something that the people here have personal knowledge of,” he said.
Fifth-grade student Chris Ewing of Foust Elementary School in Owensboro has learned a lot about the Gulf Coast area since Hurricane Katrina hit. He said he had never been to New Orleans and thought it is a “place where people have parties.” Now Ewing understands that people live there and need help.
“I’ve learned that not everyone is fortunate to have a house after bad weather or a storm and that they need all the help they can get,” Ewing said.
Ewing’s social studies teacher Neal Stahly helped organize the students’ penny drive and donut sales and is using the event to teach them about a variety of subjects. Stahly said the hurricane struck at the same time he was teaching them how events in other parts of the world affect them. They watched on TV as Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and discussed how it will not only affect those states but also the rest of the nation such as lumber prices and gas prices go up.
Stahly said they could relate to the children their ages and they talked about the news coverage and journalism. “They’re 10 and 11 so they can’t comprehend everything but they understand that they’ve lost everything,” he said.
Ewing said he learned about the oilrigs on the Gulf Coast and how that caused gas prices in Kentucky to rise. And he said that all the destruction made him feel sad but raising money for the survivors made him feel better. “I feel real happy and I know they are being helped and they’ll probably get their houses back,” he said.
In the process of helping people affected by Hurricane Katrina with penny drives and selling donuts, students have learned about geography, math, journalism and natural disasters, and maybe even more importantly about empathy and what it means to be a good citizen. Kentucky’s citizens including its youngest ones have stepped up to help make life easier for people they don’t even know and to learn something about themselves.
The Education Cabinet coordinates learning programs from P-16, and manages and supports training and employment functions in the Department for Workforce Investment. For more information about our programs, visit www.educationcabinet.ky.gov or www.workforce.ky.gov or call 502-564-6606.