Students collect donations

Theresa Montgomery

Shannon Weiss, senior early childhood education major, sorts donations raised by early childhood education Block 4 for Hurricane Katrina victims. David England, dean of the College of Education, stopped by while Weiss and three other students were still s

Credit: Steve Schirra

The letter read, “I hope you feel better. I hope you’re safe.”

That’s what Shannon Weiss, senior early childhood education major, said of one of dozens of letters written by local school children to send in care packages to students affected by recent hurricanes in the South. A group of almost 50 early childhood education majors in a class at Kent State are behind the effort to collect educational supplies for students and teachers who “had lost everything,” Weiss said.

“We didn’t anticipate the response,” Weiss said. “The amount of letters from the schools we were at was unbelievable. The teachers really warmed up to it.”

For the last month in White Hall, donation boxes have been set up for people to contribute educational materials. Now students are packing up the supplies in bags, in boxes and in donated children’s backpacks, Weiss said.

Children’s books, pens, folders, paper, scissors, toys and other supplies have flowed in. At this point, 137 bags donated by DuBois Bookstore have been filled, along with almost 30 children’s backpacks and several boxes with materials for teachers and preschoolers, with more yet to pack.

The drive evolved from group discussions inside and outside the classroom. What started out as a Katrina relief effort was later generalized because of the other hurricanes in the area, said Mike Scarpino, senior early childhood education major.

“In the Early Childhood Education program, you travel through all the classes with the same people – they become your core group,” Scarpino said. “We’ve become close with each other.”

The groups talk frequently about current issues, child advocacy and things they can do to give back to the community, Scarpino said. In one discussion, someone brought up a story about a child who had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

“Sheri (Leafgren) said, ‘Do you think we can do anything?'” Scarpino said.

As a professor in the early childhood program, Leafgren became the faculty adviser for the drive.

“It really was a student-run process,” Leafgren said. “Due to the enthusiasm and visibility of the project, it really just started kicking in. That’s what started to get really intriguing. It just kept getting bigger. So many people stepped up.”

Spearheaded by early childhood education majors Weiss, Scarpino, Joanna Bowden and Kristen Zoller, the drive became a class project for Block 4 core group students. These student teaching classes at Kent State reached out to the children in their own classrooms where they are student teaching. The letters written by these children were incredibly moving, Leafgren said.

The issue of where to send the collected donations was solved by a series of connections that “just fell into place,” Leafgren said.

First, Weiss found a matchmaking Web site. On the site, people listed what they had to share, and others said what they needed, Leafgren said.

“We contacted four schools by e-mail. The first was the one we went with,” Leafgren said. She said the teacher from that school in Perkinston, Miss., wrote, “We need anything.”

One woman asked Leafgren how they planned to ship the donations to the southern school.

“Her father had worked for Paul Watts Trucking Company, Inc. This is on their route,” Leafgren said. The donations will be shrink-wrapped onto pallets and brought to Perkinston by truck. The education department is providing disposable cameras to the truckers so the exchanges can be photographed. The truckers will also be given Kent State hats for the trip.

“Our schools provide consistent stability in the lives of children. That loss of stability and routine in the midst of other personal tragedy and loss becomes even more acute,” said David England, dean of the College and Graduate School of Education, Health and Human Services.

England said that in reaching out to those in school districts devastated by the hurricanes, “children across the country are learning lessons and virtues for life that cannot be measured.”

Scarpino said they’ve received generous donations from several departments on campus and from schools throughout the area.

“I think it’s been good for the whole community,” he said. “I hope this will be the gift that keeps on giving.”

Contact College and Graduate School of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Theresa Montgomery at [email protected].