Fifth graders at Potomac Elementary spent the year learning about different forms of social action, but Sara Bonner, a student, wanted more. “I asked if there was anything else we could do,” Bonner said.
Kerry Haggerty’s class developed a museum and a slate of fundraising projects that have netted nearly $3,000 for Martha’s Table, a DC institution which provides food and an array of other kinds of assistance to low income families.
The class’ desire to help other communities was the culmination of a year’s worth of projects, Haggerty said. “It evolved from a bunch of different activities we’ve done throughout the year on social action.”
After Bonner suggested that the class take some action Haggerty developed a project called “An Ode to Sara,” after Bonner. The first step was deciding who to help. “They researched different organizations in their community,” Haggerty said.
The students then debated the choices and eventually decided on Martha’s Table, a group that was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by the students. “It was impressive, but it was also great to see,” said Lindsey Buss, Director of Development for Martha’s Table.
The students collected books and clothes, in addition to cash donations. “Those books are the tools that we’re going to use to teach people to read,” Buss said.
The students also created an episodic museum. Students educate museum visitors about the lives of people and families who are homeless using meticulously researched statistics. “They can look and show what everyone learned,” Haggerty said.
The students present two original skit over the course of the museum. The first deals with an activist’s attempt to convince a land developer to donate property for a homeless shelter. “We combined the best arguments and used facts for our skit,” said Josh Schuman, one of the writers/performers.
Students have also developed information on animal shelters, and the Montgomery County shelter is another beneficiary of Haggerty’s class. Visitors are taught about how to take social action, and are treated to another skit, this one with an anti-drug message.
Finally, there is the opportunity to play “Jeopardy,” so that visitors can show off what they’ve learned.
In the midst of all this, students have set up a lemonade stand and gift shop to generate the money they will donate. Visitors to the museum can purchase stickers, bookmarks, t-shirts and stuffed animals handmade by one of the students, Theresa Alexander.
The total of all this work has helped broaden a lot of horizons.
“It was educational for us as well,” Buss said. He explained how surprised his group was with the dedication of the Potomac youths. “They’ve really done an amazing job.”
Similarly Haggerty thinks the students have matured. “They, I think, had changed a lot as kids,” she said, explaining the student’s dawning sense of their place in the world. “You have all there privileges, but you also have responsibilities.”