By Kathryn Dillon, City Year AmeriCorps Member serving on the Beech Street Elementary School Team supported by Dartmouth-Hitchcock
City Year New Hampshire (CYNH) corps and staff took time out of the typical office day to come together and talk about the devastating flood in Baton Rouge that has left many people without their belonging, homes, and schools. Our hearts went to the residents of Baton Rouge, the City Year Baton Rouge site, and especially the children. Later, our site's Dean’s Counsel representatives informed us that they had the opportunity to hear from the corps in Baton Rouge and find out what they need. The first needs that come to my mind when people are affected by natural disaster is food, shelter, and water, but they asked for, “well wishes.” A light bulb went off in my head. The students I am serving are so often the recipients of charitable donations, but here was an instance where they could help someone in need and what better way to do that than to send well wishes.
Academics are important and teaching students how to be good citizens is just as important. When a lesson can do both, that’s even better. As an AmeriCorps member, I am lucky that my partner teacher not only shares that same opinion, but also is completely open to my ideas. I prefaced my idea with my knowledge of the flood and how it impacted the City Year Baton Rouge site. Then, I presented my lesson plan. I was going to teach the class how to write a postcard of support for the students in Baton Rouge. My partner teacher was automatically on board.
I was really nervous about teaching my students about the flood and even more nervous about presenting the idea of empathy and how to tie that into the postcards. I started by telling them how helping someone in a devastating time does not have to be monetary or with donations, but they can offer words of support and hope. I showed them a basic example of a postcard that I had written, helped them brainstorm the parts of a letter, and sent them to work.
Some of the students were having trouble envisioning how bad the damage actually was so I pulled up some pictures. The students reacted with concern when they saw a picture of a boat full of animals that had been rescued. They were even more concerned when I showed them a picture of a mother holding her son’s hand through the floodwaters. They were moved and I was proud of their demonstrations of empathy.
I am there to serve my students and help support them in the classroom. Whether or not they know it, they are my constant inspiration and motivation. Their final postcards reminded me that making a difference in someone's life does not have to be a grand gesture or raising millions of dollars. It can be as short and as simple as, "Stay strong. I am thinking of you." My students understood this and were able to write messages from their hearts knowing these kind words could make a difference.