Fourth-graders in Stowe are worried about where homeless people lay their heads at night, and whether kids have enough books to read. At school, they’ve been learning about how to make a difference.
Homelessness and access to books were the subjects of two service learning projects that Stowe Elementary fourth-graders tackled this year, said Allie Cashel, who works for the New York City-based Service Learning Projects. Stowe Elementary has three fourth-grade classes; every student participated.
Cashel, newly based in Vermont, says Stowe Elementary is the first school in the state to work with her organization.
The kids began brainstorming in January, exploring issues they saw in town. Other ideas included preventing animal abuse, and ensuring access to education.
It took them about two weeks to narrow all their ideas to two — access to books and a homeless shelter for kids.
“Working with the fourth-graders at Stowe Elementary has been a wonderful experience. They bring a passion, curiosity and determination to their work that has been inspiring,” Cashel said. “I look forward to seeing what these young change-makers will accomplish later in life, and have been so lucky to get to work with them all on these projects.”
Half of the fourth-graders chose to raise money for the Stowe Free Library, and the other half delivered a presentation about the importance of housing for homeless kids.
The library group was inspired by the December flood at Stowe Free Library, caused by a sprinkler malfunction, said Lillian, a fourth-grade student.
The flood destroyed the library’s entire adult book collection, though much of the youth collection survived.
The library damage “made us feel really sad and we wanted to help, so it was a great opportunity to help,” Lillian said. “We know (libraries) are very important for children’s education.”
The fourth-graders put together a bake sale for this Friday at student pickup and dropoff, which Lillian has been publicizing with flyers around town.
Lillian says she loves to read.
“I like it because it gives me ideas for writing, and it helps me learn, and then it’s really relaxing and I like to do it before bed and then when I wake up. I just love reading,” she said.
In addition to raising money for the library, the students are collecting used books to set up a Little Free Library in town.
Fourth-grader Lucy took the lead on explaining the homelessness project.
“We were having trouble deciding what we wanted to do, so we did a vote and we got homelessness, because we thought that that was the biggest issue going on,” Lucy said.
“We also found out that there was no shelter for children, and only for adults,” Lucy said. “We thought that we should make a family shelter for kids and adults, so that they can be together.”
Lamoille County does have a warming shelter — the Lamoille Community House in Hyde Park, which is a place where individuals and families can go in the winter. But the Stowe kids think homeless people need a place to go in the warmer months, too.
“We also learned that there are 20 or more kids in Lamoille County that were homeless,” Lucy said. “We kind of got emotional and we thought that that isn’t OK and we have to do something about it, so we said that we should do a family shelter.”
Lucy said the fourth-graders put together a petition for a year-round shelter in Lamoille County, and made presentations to every class at Stowe Elementary.
“We are going to do a drive, so people can donate blankets, pillows, cans of food or anything like that, so that the homeless kids can have it,” she said.
The students also made a presentation to Will Eberle, field director for the Vermont Agency of Human Resources.
Lucy said it feels good to take action to solve a problem.
“I’ve seen tons of people on the sides of the streets, and I felt really bad and I thought that people should do more things about it, and we’re doing it right now,” she said.