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.”
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.
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.
“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.”