Staff members from Forest Elementary School near Chicago show their support for the Spring community.
HOUSTON – Sept. 14, 2017 – Brianna Sampson – a teacher at Forest Elementary School in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines – wanted to help her students understand the effects of Hurricane Harvey. But how do you talk with third-graders about devastating floods and a hurricane a thousand miles away?
“At first, I asked them, ‘What do you think a hurricane is? What do you know about it?’” she said.
Sampson approached the topic cautiously, but soon found that, far from disturbing them, she had awakened their empathy instead, turning a classroom discussion on current events into a lesson in compassion.
When a college friend now living near the Spring community suggested Sampson reach out to the Spring ISD Education Foundation, Sampson’s classroom lessons on Harvey took on new urgency, and a new scope. Her students quickly got excited thinking about school supplies and other items they could send to the children in Houston, although one student’s suggestion – swimsuits – prompted some additional discussion about the dangers of floodwater.
“As of right now, we’re raising money until the end of September,” Sampson said. “Some of my children are finding quarters on the playground, one found a dollar yesterday. They’re bringing it in, we’re putting it in our bucket, and their families can donate as well.”
Students were especially affected when talking about those who had to leave their homes. “Some of them started crying,” Sampson said. “They felt so bad for these children and their families and their pets – they were really worried about all the pets in Houston.”
As word got out, and especially as older siblings began hearing about what the third-graders were up to, others wanted to get involved, too. The student council started planning a fundraiser, and the conversation spread. “It’s great that we’re having the opportunities to talk about issues like this,” Sampson said, “talking about community and what we can do together.”
In addition to sending money and school supplies, the students wanted to send encouragement in other forms. So, they sat down and began writing letters to send to students at Ponderosa Elementary School, in a neighborhood that Harvey had hit especially hard.
Between the letter writing, the fundraising and the ongoing conversations about empathy and compassion, Sampson acknowledges that she may have exposed her young students to some challenging material, but she has faith in their ability to process it and allow it to shape them in positive ways.
“Now they’re asking, ‘What are we going to do for everyone in Florida?’ So now it’s opened up this door,” Sampson said. “It’s kind of been a culture at Forest Elementary to help each other out, and we’re just trying to keep that alive, keep these kids humble, and help them figure out ways to help others.”