By John Rosales
When the earth shook and Haiti collapsed on January 12, students, teachers, education support professionals (ESPs) and administrators at Mead Middle School in Wichita, Kansas, took notice.
“After the earthquake, I heard students talking casually about what had happened in Haiti,” says Brian Horn, a language arts teacher at Mead. “We made only brief mention of it in my class that week and went about our normal business. However, that weekend I had time to fully study and absorb the tragedy and began thinking about how we, as a school, could act together for the people of Haiti.”
Teacher Brian Horn (center) stands with students during I Heart Haiti Day at Mead Middle School. About $1,150 was raised by the school, including by students (left to right) Kelvin Lopez, Bryan Lane, Kelsey Sharp, Silvia Zamora, Selena Rivera, Jade Carranza, and Treanesha Dailey.
Horn then approached the principal and student council faculty leader about designating a school day to honor Haiti and study the nation’s history and culture while raising funds for earthquake victims. The events that followed exceeded their expectations.
Educators worked with students to organize I Heart Haiti Day in which large white buttons would be worn and the history of Haiti would be studied. They hoped to raise $1,000. From January 19-21, students lined up at the a la carte station in the cafeteria to pre-pay for the $2 student-made buttons.
The first 500 sold out. Teachers and ESPs had to hurry and make an additional 75 or so to meet the demand. About $1,150 was raised, along with awareness that Horn considers most beneficial to students.
“It was my intention that students learn specifically more about the people of Haiti, the earthquake, and the triumphant and tragic history of their land,” he says. “Perhaps more ambitiously, I wanted to further develop in students that they can be empowered to act with others for others for socially just ends.”
Many Mead teachers had lessons that centered on the science of earthquakes as well as Haitian poetry, literature, art, and history.
After the funds were tallied, student council members researched humanitarian organizations that have provided relief funding since the earthquake. They decided to donate the fund to the NEA Foundation because they wanted the money to go towards the rebuilding of Haiti’s education system. Almost 50 percent of Haiti’s 9 million people are of school age.
With an unemployment rate of about 65 percent, many Haitian parents cannot afford the costs of education. According to media reports, the government does not provide adequate funding for public schools. Since the average family makes less than $1 a day, children stop attending school because their parents cannot afford food and clothing, let alone school fees.
At Mead, students who purchased buttons were allowed to dress out of uniform on I Heart Haiti Day (January 25). Most students either bought or helped make the buttons, or aided with advertising the event. Almost everyone at Mead participated.
“I designed and printed button templates, and student council members and interested eighth-graders cut the templates out during lunch recess,” Horn says. “Teachers and paraprofessionals volunteered to travel to our district’s Parent Teacher Resource Center during their plan time or after school to make the buttons.”
Other teachers also got involved by integrating Haiti into lessons taught on I Heart Haiti Day.
“We hope this activity will inspire our students to act the next time something like this happens in the world where people need our help,” says Horn. ”The fact that many students and teachers still wear their buttons gives me hope that our event was educative and will precipitate future acts of justice by our students and staff.”