Children's compassion comes full circle
October 2, 2008 · Updated 4:49 PM
Encouraging words sent to young Katrina victims from Cascade View Elementary students of Snoqualmie last fall were returned to the senders in the form of a handmade quilt.
Last month, CVE students received messages of devastation, recovery and hope in words and pictures on a quilt from the children who survived Hurricane Katrina in Gulfport, Miss.
It all began with a school-wide writing assignment at CVE last fall.
Jan Calvert, CVE parent volunteer, and Sandy Smelser, school counselor, developed the idea of having the CVE students write holiday cards to the children in Mississippi. About 600 cards were made.
"All grades participated in the card-making project, even the kindergartners," Smelser said.
"The fall school theme was 'Respect for Others'," Calvert said. "As part of this curriculum, Sandy Smelser came up with the card writing idea," she added.
Calvert, the mother of two CVE students, said her family livedin Gulfport for about four years. During that time, they developed a deep and lasting connection to the community. So, after Hurricane Katrina hit, the Culvert family traveled to Gulfport and hand delivered the cards to the Mississippi students at Pass Road Elementary.
Calvert said that standing beside Gulfport Elementary School in Gulfport is a community center and children's museum called the Lynn Meadows Discover Center.
"The center is located two blocks from the beach and during the storm it filled with about 40 feet of water," she said. "Despite the damage, the center still received countless calls from families looking for relief and resources for the children."
The center was able to reopen, using its undamaged second floor to offer children's outreach programs. One of the projects was to make Katrina "story quilts". Three quilts were completed. In mid March, one of those quilts was mailed to CVE.
"Each student participating drew pictures of a memory. It could be a memory of an experience before the storm, during or after the storm," Smelser said.
The quilt is made up of squares. Each square contains a picture expressing a child's memory.
Some pictures show a house with flowers and clouds of Hurricane Katrina looming in the background. Other pictures express the chaos experienced during the storm with crayon swishes of blue covering the first floor of a child's home.
Smelser pointed to other pictures expressing hope. "Clearly, construction equipment, new homes, children holding hands are all memories of recovery," she said.
To Smelser, this is all about the process of coping in difficult situations. "I didn't plan on this curriculum, but when the quilt showed up, I decided to design a three-part instruction on coping in order to bring the lesson of life's challenges, like surviving Hurricane Katrina, full circle."
Smelser used the story quilt to show the students how they, too, can cope by using art. It can help express an experience children may have to cope with, like a natural disaster, which is the first part of the lesson," she said.
The second part of the lesson is for the children to identify what wasn't lost.
Many of the Mississippi children drew pictures of friends, pets and symbols of freedom such as the American flag. Smelser said even with the storm-caused chaos, they are clearly identified by the surviving children as what was not lost, an important part of coping.
The third part of the lesson is to save the memories. The Gulfport and Snoqualmie children demonstrated this by creating a journal filled with pictures of events and memories of building and sharing the story quilt, exchanging photographs and writing messages of hope.
After two weeks of display, the quilt was reluctantly returned to Mississippi.
Calvert said she will see the quilt again. She plans to travel with her family to Gulfport and visit the children's museum where they will see all three of the story quilts.
For her effort in hand delivering the cards, she takes little credit. She said it was the children who had the powerful impact on each other.
"I was just the vehicle," she said. "The children wrote in their own words and expressed their own feelings and experiences."