Pupils find local meaning of distant disaster
By Preston Sparks | Staff Writer
Sunday, January 24, 2010

Images of toppled buildings, fires and people in desperate need flashed before Bayvale Elementary School pupils' eyes Thursday as they watched their school's daily news show.

"As you look at these images, please keep the people of Haiti in your thoughts and prayers," the school's media specialist, Stacey Hall, told classes as they tuned in.

It was a special report about the devastation in Haiti from the Jan. 12 earthquake -- something Bayvale and many other area students have learned a lot about.

In many schools, the earthquake has been incorporated into lesson plans at all levels, including where Haiti is located, its history and why an earthquake occurred there. The events also have given schools the opportunity to teach the importance of community involvement through relief efforts.

Teaching Haiti

At Bayvale, Principal Dana Harris said classes are incorporating the events with the history of Haiti, the beliefs of its people and how "it is not their fault."

Teachers are explaining how a tectonic plate shift can cause earthquakes. Bayvale has also extended its Humanitarian Month observance for January into February, "with students, faculty and staff alike engaged in promoting good deeds for others."

At Wheeless Road Elementary, Principal Verma Curtis said general information about Haiti has been included in most classrooms, but more in-depth study usually comes in fourth- and fifth-grade social studies classes.

"We're just mostly saying what happened to the people ... and it gives the teachers the opportunity to let children know we have to help others that are in need," she said.

Murphey Middle Principal Veronica Bolton said although their curriculum is set, teachers are referencing Haiti.

"Even as far as ... clean drinking water goes, the health teachers they may even bring that (Haiti's water standards) in as a point of reference," she said.

Murphey Middle parent and PTA president Monique Braswell said one of her children told her they had learned in class about Haiti's slavery past and how through revolution it became the first independent black state in the New World.

"I think the teachers are doing a wonderful job, and the teachers lead by example," she said.

At Westside High School, French teacher Hubert Exumé, a native of Haiti, has done his part.

"They ask me questions," he said of his students. "I just give them a quick history about Haiti."

That lesson, he said, works well with a French class, as the language is predominant in Haiti, which once was a French territory.

Evans Middle teacher Teresa Belchyk said the earthquake has been a "teachable tragedy." She's referenced Haiti in educating students on poverty, gross domestic product and how countries receive help through such organizations as the United Nations.

She's working on a PowerPoint presentation that will offer her students a "virtual walking trip through Haiti before the earthquake ... with a follow-up non-graphic collage of pictures that students find and bring in telling the story of Haiti after the earthquake."

At Grovetown Middle School, teacher Jennifer Barefoot said Haiti has been discussed in sixth-grade social studies classes.

She said her gifted classes are forming committees to contact the Red Cross to find out what Haitians' needs are.

"From here, the students are going to be creating posters, school announcements, and collecting the items of need," she said.

The outreach effort

At Bayvale, a fundraiser called Project HOPE -- Haiti's Outreach Partnership Efforts -- has begun. After the school's Thursday morning news report, some students put up posters about the drive around their school.

Wheeless Road Elementary also has gotten involved with a bottled water drive organized by Murphey Middle School's Future Business Leaders of America. Officials say they've already collected hundreds of water bottles.

"We're really trying to push serving our community," said Bolton, noting how part of Murphey's charter calls for students to get involved in community service work.

All Richmond County schools are accepting donations for a Haitian Children's Fund that the school system and city of Augusta jointly established.

In Aiken County, North Augusta and Kennedy middle schools plan to start food and money drives. Teachers leading the projects said donations would go to local churches that already have other relief efforts planned.

In Columbia County, many schools are organizing a Hats On for Haiti fundraiser, through which pupils can pay $1 to wear their hats to class. A Hands Helping Haiti drive has been started at Martinez Elementary, with proceeds going to the Augusta chapter of the Red Cross. Students can purchase a red or blue "hand" for $1, and the "hands" will be used to create the Haitian flag.

Third-grade Martinez Elementary teacher Ann Sturkey said she was touched by how the drive started.

"We were talking about the earthquake last week, and one of my students made the connection that one of our classmates is part Haitian," she said. "With this, he said we should do something to help his family. I almost cried."

Staff writers Julia Sellers and Donnie Fetter contributed to this article.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3851 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com

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