Thursday, April 15, 2010

Never Underestimate the Power of a Small Group of People...

"Never underestimate the power of a small group of people to change the world.  In fact, it is the only way it ever has."  Margaret Mead
  
In deed, this is true as is evidenced by the following blog post.  

Let me introduce you to an extraordinary, mutli-talented young teacher, Stephanie Hayward.  

I have known Stephanie since she was a student singing in the York Middle and High School shows with my daughters.  It is a pleasure to share with my readers this interview with Stephanie and her class of fifth graders, who saw a need and found a way to meet it.
 
~~~~~~~~~
 
Hi, Stephanie! Thank you for visiting my blog to share the story of how your students created a way to help the people in Haiti. Could you give us a little history of how this happened?

Thanks, Linda. We are very excited to share this project! It has inspired us as a classroom, a school but most importantly, as people. My fifth graders were very concerned when learning of the Earthquake that struck Haiti in January. They all came into class the next day sharing stories and things they heard in the news.

Students at Breakwater, thankfully, do not see themselves as helpless, even in catastrophic events such as this one. They know, through their learning as young as preschool, that every little bit helps and even young children can do things that matter. 

Immediately they wanted to come up with a way they could help. We brainstormed for some time and eventually came up with the “Handmade for Haiti” project. We had all learned to knit earlier in the year because we were involved in another project called the “Schuyler Blanket Project” where we created a patchwork knit “comfort” blanket for a family who sadly lost a child. 

Two things that we needed to get this up and running were already in the works: a bit of craftiness and a whole lot of heart. “Going handmade” would be our mission.

So, how much of the website was created by the students? Do they help maintain it?

The students, with touches of guidance from me, created the website almost entirely. We work with technology regularly and the children write their own newsletters biweekly for the community. iweb (the program used to make the website) is very similar to the word processing program they use to create their newsletters, so it was an easy transition. 

Even now, 3 months after the birth of the website, children remember at least once a week that, “we have to update the site.” Because the project evolved so organically through their hopes and ideas, the children take great pride in taking the reins. They also independently created a Twitter and an email address in order to send and receive mail: (HandmadeforHaiti@gmail.com). Two boys check the email and respond regularly and independently. They’d love to hear from you!

I understand that the students have made the various items put up for sale on the website. Where did they get the ideas for the items? Have other people donated items?

At first, many of us were knitting scarves and hats for the site. Over time, the kids began trying new things. We now have an assortment of handmade dolls, knit snakes, hand sewn pouches, tiny fleece mice, jewelry, mini painted canvases, wood burned plaques and more items coming in daily. I love this project because, not only are the children responding positively to a tragic event and doing something to help, they are stretching the limits of their creativity and imagination. They are also taking many risks by creating handmade items and posting them for the world to see.


We also have been accepting donations of handmade items to help our cause. So Far, we have received donations from six different states. On a US Map in the classroom, the children mark, using blue pins, the places where we have sent homemade items. Using red pins, they mark from where items have been donated. So far, we have sent items to 18 states and three countries and we have received donations from six states!

As an educator who believes in the importance of critical literacy, can you explain to us how this project enhances the learning of the students? Is it only about learning social justice skills? What other skills are developed by participating in this project?

I think integrated learning is the most successful type of learning. Here is a project that the kids are extremely passionate about. They built it from the ground up and as we bounce around ideas, it grows and blossoms. The kids never gripe about doing any part of the project. In fact, I suspect they don’t even know that they’re learning as much as they are.
  

As mathematicians, they are predicting sales and donations, calculating money made while deducting how much cost is needed for postage, paying for our shop on etsy.com, and materials. 

As geographers, they are marking the cities, states and countries where our items have sold as well as calculating distances and seeing how many miles our items have sold. We have even sold items to Italy and Cameroon!

As readers and writers, they are writing text for the website, (a student has even just recently started a “progress blog”) reading and answering emails from interested community members, and writing out a thank you note to every person who buys an item. Currently, we’ve sold 79 items.

As artists, inventors, and craftmakers, students create pieces that are marketable, exciting and beautiful.
  

They are marketing geniuses! They use posters, small business cards telling our story, social networking sites, and word of mouth to spread the word as far reaching as they are able. Their current plan is to take posters telling our mission to all the places they’ll be traveling during April break: The Bahamas, Arizona, New Hampshire, Florida, and at the coffee shops and restaurants in their own little towns.

As human beings, they see that helping others can be one of the most rewarding and gratifying jobs that we do. Through service learning, children see outside themselves. I am so impressed at how they always come back to the people in Haiti. “They still need so much help,” they’ll remind members of our community.


Here are a few questions for your students:

What did you like best about this project?

I think it’s good to help other people so that’s why I like it ~Atticus

We’ve made a little over a thousand dollars and though it’s not a ton, it can make a difference. I heard that antibiotics cost only a dime, so we could get lots of antibiotics for a sick or infected Haitian. ~Maddie

It’s something you can do almost anytime and it’s fun and helpful. ~Elsie

I liked feeling important when I worked on our project. ~Brandon

I like to know that I can do something big. ~Sidara

My favorite part of this project was making handmade items and seeing them on the website then shipping my stuff across the country to people that I don’t know.
~Chris

I think the best part about this project is knowing that you’re helping these people in Haiti and learning about how much they need us. ~Bob

The thing that I like best is that we got to make a lot of items to put on the site and got to see things other people made but I also like that we’re making money for a very poor place and that makes me feel good. ~Emily

I like that we’re supporting people that really need help, and that we’re doing it in a pretty creative way. Not just sending them money, but creating and working to raise money for Haiti. ~Robin

Was there anything that surprised you about doing this project?

I honestly didn’t think we would get more than $100, so getting more than 10 times that was a pleasant, happy, fudgesicle-on-a-summers-day great shock.~Maddie

I was surprised because we’re making more money than I anticipated. For one class, we’re making a ton of money. ~Henry G.

I was very surprised at how fast people lost interest. It makes me wonder how many people actually care, or are just going along with it because everyone else is. ~Elsie

It surprised me how much work we had to do. We had to put things on the website (which took about 5 minutes per item), put pins on a map for where items have been bought and sold, wrap packages, write thank you cards etc. But it totally pays off because the work we do is helping somebody in need down in Haiti. ~Josh

I’m surprised that we have come so far in this project. We have already send a purchased item to Italy. ~Bob

I was surprised that so many people across the country were willing to donate and buy items from Handmade for Haiti. There are a lot of websites and organizations for helping Haiti, so I was surprised that people from Washington and everywhere in between had heard about us and were willing to contribute. ~Robin

What was the class goal? Did you meet it?

Our original goal was $500, so when that doubled, we heightened our standards to $1,600. Who knows what we’ll end up with! ~Maddie

Our class goal is to raise $3,000. We only have $1,015. Right now, we sell about one item per week. Most people think, “I have done my part. Haiti isn’t on the news. They seem okay.” But people in Haiti need a lot more help. We are trying to buy a shelter for a Haitian family and we only need about $600 more. ~Josh

What will you take away from this project?

I’ll leave good ‘ol Handmade for Haiti knowing I’m completely blessed. Though I may not think about it every time I eat lunch, I’ll know that these little luxuries I take for granted are like Christmas for some Haitians. ~Maddie

I will probably remember this project for a long time. I think we learned a lot from Ms. Hayward. ~Henry G.

We will take away pride that we helped, some knowledge of running a business, and hopefully a shelter for a family in Haiti! ~Elsie

I think I’ll try to remember that every little thing helps and that one person can’t always make a change, but if you group up, you can do lots of stuff. ~Emma

I think definitely how it felt, because I thought that I could help but I didn’t know how then we came up with the idea. So I think that I will never forget that. And also how bad my hands hurt from wrapping, taping, writing thank you notes and more! ~Sidara

I think that I can take a lot away from this because we will see how much a little work can help a family somewhere else and maybe save a life from handmade items. ~Chris

I learned that giving is always a good way to feel good. ~Sabrina

I will take away the whole experience because everything was fun, exciting, and I’ll miss it very much. ~Emily

I’ll take away that we didn’t make all that much, considering the need of the people, but we still made a small difference, helped a family, changed some lives. ~Robin

Stephanie, you must be very proud of your students. What do you hope they take with them from this project?

I am very proud of them. I love that children are so rarely held back by impossibility. When given the opportunity to do great things, they do. They don’t fear what’s unknown. They trust that if they are doing something with their whole selves, it will be accepted and nurtured (as it has). 

I hope that they remember that their efforts can make big differences and that working together is key to making positive change in a tricky world. The greatest wish I have for them is that they continue to see big and act big, even when they stop feeling so big. I hope that they remember that, when they were ten, they made a difference in the lives of real people in need and that if they continue to do that throughout their lives, it will continue filling them with a greatness that’s palpable. 

With all the work that we’ve done, when I mentioned I might visit Haiti in August, every single one of them offered to join me and help.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers about this project?
 
Visit us at www.handmadeforhaiti.org! We’d love to hear from you!

2 comments:

Guthrie said...

I love that this amazing story is TRUE! That a wonderful and inspired teacher and some wonderful inspired kids got together and created something meaningful and then stuck with it to make it grow strong. To raise that kind of money is no small thing, and that money raised will certainly make a difference in Haiti, to help Some orphaned children have a home.

Linda said...

Dear Guthrie,

Thank you for visiting...Yes, it inspiring and heartwarming to see what can be done when we simply open our minds and heart.
What hope these young ones bring to our world!
Gentle Peace to you...Linda