VMS book drive drives home important lessons about about life as students reach out to a far-away school
VAIL — When Laurie Stavisky told her fifth-grade language arts students that a school in Savannah, Georgia, could use their help, her students unleashed a tsunami of positive energy.
What started as a project-based learning challenge became a flood of initiative, teamwork, baked goods and books … boxes and boxes of books.
All Stavisky had to do was pose the problem to her class: Andrea B. Williams Elementary School in Georgia was a “diamond in the rough.”
Stavinsky’s mother mentored children at the school; the students are bright, but A. B. Williams was going through a tough transition. The campus had been upgraded, and the students shifted between buildings while their new school was being built. Once complete, their new facility was beautiful, fresh, clean and furnished. However, while visiting the school with her mother, Stavisky noticed that they were missing something important: books.
“There were often no bookshelves in the classrooms, and the shelves in the school library, especially those housing chapter books, were few and far between,” Stavisky said.
She asked her students what they thought could be done, and 18 hands shot up with 18 million ideas.
“I’ve been trying to keep up with them ever since,” Stavinsky said.
THEIR PLACE IN OUR WORLD
The fifth-graders explored their place in the world through books and the characters in them. The VMS students saw themselves in books everywhere. The pile depicting African American characters and other cultures, however, was scarce. The students wanted to compile books with protagonists of different races, since the students of A. B. Williams are largely African American.
Some VMS students began to see how much you can learn about different people by reading about characters from different background, a lesson in literature that is hard to teach in any conventional way. That is exciting to watch, Stavisky said.
The students’ haste and eagerness to collect and compile books carried them headlong into one of their first challenges.
“I stepped aside and purposefully allowed them to experience some chaos in their excitement and eagerness to get underway,” Stavisky said. “They were busy, loud and a bit overwhelmed stacking piles of books and sorting them by genres.”
They figured out pretty quickly the need to organize everything into subgroups.
They handled that problem, and those that followed. As complications arose, so did solutions.
“How are we going to ship all these?”
“I can get boxes from my mom’s store.”
“We need tape, too.”
“What is this going to cost to send to Georgia?”
“What if we had a bake sale and got more books from a book drive.”
They were determined to pursue their ideas. Several of the young philanthropists decided they needed to appeal to some higher council. If they were going to make this bake sale legit, if they were going to make the kind of cash they needed to ship books to Savannah, they were going to do it the right way.
Two of them completed paperwork, rehearsed and pitched their class’ ideas to the Upper School committee that supports student philanthropy work. The committee said yes, of course.
“I’ll never forget the joy on their faces and high-fives as they came running back into the classroom screaming, ‘We did it. The book drive and bake sale are approved.’” Stavisky said.
The fifth-graders visited homerooms, gave presentations, distributed flyers and even made appearances at the Middle School and Upper School Town Meetings to promote their project.
The bake sale was so successful, the students decided to sell more baked goods at VMS sporting events. So far, they have raised an impressive $780.
Race and privilege
“The energy has not stopped,” Stavisky said.
This project has also given her a unique opportunity to facilitate some very deep conversations surrounding race and privilege. The students at A.B. Williams elementary are unduly disadvantaged; they don’t have the resources that are available at a place such as VMS, and they have been through some tumultuous times as a school community.
“They’re kids just like us, but they just don’t have the same privileges we do …” the students said.
Their conversations drifted from access to education and barriers to it to what it means to have privilege, to have a beautiful school and a library overflowing with books — the concepts were powerful.
It also opened the doors for new friendships. The fifth-graders are drafting letters to send to the A.B. Williams students, their new Georgia pen pals.
Where this project goes from here hangs entirely on the will of the students. According to Stavisky, they have taken this project by the horns and are not letting go.
Gore Creek since 2013 has been listed on the state’s list of “impaired waterways.” Several years of work are paying off, but getting off the list has become more difficult.