Learning Through Serving

Empathy and compassion were the lessons of the day recently at two district schools: Haiti Day at Breton Downs Elementary and the 11th annual Day of Caring, where middle schoolers fanned out across the community for service-learning projects ranging from outdoor trail cleanups and library book shelving, to playing with other children and walking shelter dogs.

Kindergartner Lucy Straveler, front, and first-grader Henry Hoekstra get drinks of water as their Haitian peers doHaiti Day

Nathalie Lanne has known how to write in French for as long as she has known how to write.

So having been born in Paris and moved to the U.S. when she was 7, it was natural for the Breton Downs fifth-grader to write a letter to the principal of a school in Haiti in the language widely spoken in that country.

“I wrote to him that my class and I love your kids, that they are really nice and so brave, and that it’s awesome that they get to go to school,” Nathalie said.

Her letter was put into the hands of that principal — Joseph Geordanie “Jordan” Fleurant — when he visited Breton Downs during the school’s fifth annual Haiti Day.

It was the culminating activity of the fifth year spent connecting with and supporting the Institution La Puissance de L’Education, in Port-au-Prince, through the Grand Rapids-based nonprofit Power of Education Foundation.

Seventh-graders Ben Turner, left, and Samuel Spiegel sort beads at the Cook Library CenterStudents started the day with a video chat with their Haitian peers, and Breton Downs Principal Caroline Breault-Cannon presented Fleurant with a check for $2,800 raised by school families and the PTO.

Students also spent the day much like a typical one at the school in Haiti. They wore uniforms, drank water from coolers instead of water fountains, navigated hallways with minimal electricity to simulate rolling outages, played Haitian games and ate traditional beans-and-rice school lunches.

“We have no way to say thank you for all you have done,” Fleurant told Breton Downs students.

One of several projects the Breton Downs students have collaborated on with their Haitian partner schoolDay of Caring

As volunteer work goes, building an indoor fort at the Cook Library Center in Southwest Grand Rapids was a pretty good deal for a quartet of Middle School students.

“Rightie-tightie,” said seventh-grader Avery Allen, as she tried to fit together the PVC framing. “Lefty-loosey!” chimed in classmate Sarah VanFossen.

So was being outdoors on the sunny Friday afternoon, raking new mulch beneath trees at the Salvation Army Kroc Center on South Division Avenue.

“I wish he’d get this excited about yard work at home,” joked one chaperone as her son pushed a wheelbarrow of mulch across the parking lot.

Those were just two of 35 organizations across the area that nearly 700 EGR students fanned out to volunteer for, as part of the school’s 11th annual Day of Caring.

“This day brings me such joy,” said Assistant Principal Shelly Schram. “Our hope is that we can instill a desire for our students to see the positive outcome of volunteering, and to continue this in the future.”


Students Walk in Haitian Students Shoes for a Day

Power of Education Foundation

Collaborative Art with Haitian School Selected for ArtPrize

Breton Downs students welcomed Jordan Fleurant, principal of a school in Haiti, during their Haiti Day

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them.


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