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Compassion in verse, art and service

The format was simple, and what it produced was profound.

STEAM teacher Stephanie Cionca asked Central Woodlands ⅚ students to look at Dorothea Lange’s iconic black-and-white images of people in rough times and try to imagine what they were feeling.

Cionca’s prompts included “I see,” “I want,” “I feel” and “I dream.”

Sixth-graders Tyler Woldman and Hannah Levering said their groups studied closely the photo they chose — the subjects’ faces, body language and surroundings — and came up with feeling words such as “tired,” “lonely” and “frustrated.”

In their classmates’ poems, there also were words of hope amid the solemn images, such as “proud,” “hope” and “curiosity.”

Fifth-graders Stella Penner and Becky Maddox wrote this poem: I am old, I see a drop of sweat washing dust off a man's face, I hear a yiunger man complaining, I say nothing, I feel too numb to speak, I wonder if I will feel again, I want to care about things again, I dream of being free, I am emotionaless.
Fifth-graders Stella Penner and Becky Maddox wrote this poem

Tyler said that although the man inside a tent in his group’s photograph was smiling, “he looks sad, maybe that he has to live there.”

As for Hannah’s photo of three dusty older men, “My group thought maybe they lost something that was important to them,” she said.

The poetry activity was part of a collaboration between Cionca, fifth-grade counselor Judy Bouley and sixth-grade counselor Christine Field to help students explore the concept of empathy.

The unit grew from a now three-year-old event where sixth-graders team up with a group called S.W.I.M. (Safe Water International Ministries) to assemble, test and wrap for shipping more than 50 chlorine-producing units (CPUs). The units will be sent to developing countries such as Nepal and South Africa.

Poems written by sixth-graders Bella Grounin and Mary Holtgrieve, first, and Brady Miller and Nick Bergman, second: I am tired. I see my parents working, I hear birds, I say 'I am bored', I feel bad for my mom and my dad, I wonder if I will ever have fun, I want ice cream, I dream of all the toys in the world, I am bored out of my mind. Brady and Nick's Poem: I am scared, I see a rough future ahead, I hear other children, I say "are we trapped here', I feel miderable, I wonder why this woman is taking our picture, I want to get out of here, I deam of a better future, I am tired.
Poems written by sixth-graders Bella Grounin and Mary Holtgrieve, and Brady Miller and Nick Bergman

As Empathy Grew, So Did Unit

To understand the need for CPUs, sixth-graders read the book “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park, about a Sudanese boy and girl living decades apart, and how crucial water is to their survival. Lessons in geography and science also were integrated into the project.

Because of the anticipation felt by fifth-graders of being involved in the CPU project the following year, a read-aloud was added for that grade titled “Four Feet,Two Sandals.”

Also, fifth- and sixth-graders discussed the saying “put yourself in their shoes” and learned about the organization Soles4Souls, which distributes shoes and clothing in 127 countries and all 50 states.

Out of that, hundreds of Central Woodlands students also submitted a “shoe self portrait” taken in a place where they are happy to have shoes that get them there. In STEAM class, they also made pendant necklaces, which they will sell to raise money for Soles4Souls.

Fifth-graders Zion Nkugba and Molly Morse wrote this poem: I am confused, I see my mom, I hear momma's heartbeat, I am almost sleeping, I feel hungry, I wonder why my mom is sad, I want a toy, I dream about things to come, I am confused.
Fifth-graders Zion Nkugba and Molly Morse wrote this poem

“These kids have enormous hearts,” Cionca said. “Seeing their enthusiasm about using their artwork to raise awareness about a good cause, and their excitement about using their artwork to help others, is so encouraging. It gives me so much hope for the future.”

Added Bouley: “The biggest thing I loved is that the kids went deep. What I think they found is that no matter where you come from, your journey is your own; that just because you may not have not experienced the depths of what others have, you have to give yourself credit for what you’ve overcome.”

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SNN Article: How clean water boosts school attendance

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Morgan Jarema
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. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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