Wednesday, February 3, 2010

from the St. Louis Beacon

After the earthquake, small houses help teach big lessons

By Kristen Hare, Beacon staff

Posted 4:10 p.m. Tues., 02.02.10 - The instructions are simple, the materials really just scrap. Take cardboard or matboard and cut tiny triangles, rectangles and squares. Assemble a little house. Color or paint it.
Then seal it, add a pin to the back and sell it.
Easy enough.
But the art created by kids at a St. Louis elementary school wasn't just an art project.
It was, instead, a lesson in how something small, like a child or a tiny pin, can do and mean big things.
At Mason School of Academic and Cultural Literacy in the Clifton Heights neighborhood, news of the earthquake in Haiti hit hard for students and faculty because one of the teacher's assistants, Marcelle Theodor, is Haitian.
Theodor arrived at school the day after the earthquake, unaware how bad things really were.
That same day, art teacher Karen Norman got an idea through an e-mail. Norman learned of , a project started by two Florida high school art teachers. With cardboard or matboard scraps, the project calls for the creation of tiny, bright house-shaped pins, made and then sold by students. The website recommends a number of organizations for which to donate that money.
As Norman and her students got busy creating the pins, learning about the disaster in Haiti, the crumbled houses and what they could do, Theodor learned of the loss of life and homes in Haiti, too.
It took her a week to contact her brothers and sisters in Port-Au-Prince, to find out their homes were all flattened, and that she'd lost some cousins.
"And so we wanted to do something for her family," Norman says.
Students at Mason made the pins, which Norman and another teacher took home to finish, and they showed Theodor that she wasn't alone.

"It went deep into my heart," says Theodor, who says she didn't expect the show of support or devotion from the school. "And I felt that I have family that is comforting me over here."
Having a teacher from Haiti, a direct link to understand the disaster, helped take the earthquake from the abstract, says principal Deborah Leto, to the personal.
"It wasn't just some horror playing on TV."
The pins were sold for $1 for students and at least $2 for teachers. Norman says students made about 300, and about $800 was raised from their sale. Students also paid $1 to wear hats to school, and teachers paid $5 to wear jeans that day. The total raised was $1,200.
The school had hoped to send the money to Theodor's family, but her family said there was nothing to buy, and so instead the school gave the money to the Red Cross last week. They were told the organization would do their best to get it to Theodor's village.
Norman, whom Leto says has the heart of a social worker, says Mason's student population is made up of kids with diverse backgrounds. About one-third are ESL students, some who are recent immigrants. Students come from Somalia, Iraq, Burundi and Myanmar, and there's a small Hispanic population of students as well. Some of the students know what it's like to come from a place where shelter isn't a sure thing, she says.
But Leto thinks many of the kids, who were born here, don't have a direct connection with war or disaster.
Instead, she thinks, they just get it.
"Kids aren't as inattentive to the world as we think they are."
The school doesn't have any plans for any more fundraisers, but the buzz around the house pins isn't over yet. On Monday, Norman says, a kindergartner who had scraped up 50 cents approached her.
"And she said, Ms. Norman, can I get a pin?"

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