Sale Elementary International Studies Magnet School is not the wealthiest of schools within the Columbus Municipal School District. Approximately 88 percent of its students receive free or reduced lunch. And yet, Principal Nancy Bragg is beginning to see something interesting: When it comes to helping those less fortunate, the students no longer wait for their teachers’ direction; they take the initiative upon themselves to make a difference.
Second-grader Carlos Crusoe is one of those students who has been profoundly shaped by the school’s International Baccalaureate curriculum, which emphasizes global awareness, volunteerism and community service.
So in early October, when second grade teacher Regina DeLoach read a story to the students about the Brazilian soccer star, Pelé, she wasn’t surprised when Crusoe focused upon one aspect of the story — the fact that Pelé and his childhood friends were so poor they couldn’t afford shoes. He remembered when Operation Ukraine founder and president Kathy Cadden came to the school to solicit clothing for earthquake victims in Haiti, and he specifically remembered how she had told them that shoes save lives, protecting people from injuring their feet or being exposed to toxic waters and parasites.
Crusoe suggested starting a school-wide campaign to collect shoes to send to Brazil, and DeLoach, along with IB Coordinator Kay Ellis, enthusiastically agreed. They contacted Cadden and asked if she could help them distribute the shoes wherever they were most needed, and a campaign was borne.
A month later, hundreds of shoes in every shape, size and color line the hallways and cafeteria walls, a daily reminder to the students of how kindness can spread, one person at a time.
There has been an unexpected side effect as well — Crusoe’s dream has extended beyond the classroom and touched people in the community. A professor at East Mississippi Community college brought two bags of shoes that were donated by his students. An anonymous donor brought more. Walmart has donated a $50 gift certificate to the cause.
“It’s really reached out into the community and had a domino effect,” Ellis said Tuesday afternoon.
The movement has gained so much momentum that they’ve decided to extend the program until Nov. 15.
Ellis said it’s uplifting to see the beginning seeds of empathy growing in young minds.
“They’re very caring, and we’re seeing more and more caring in our children,” Ellis said. “They talk about caring and empathy and how they can help others. We’ve kind of seen that those who don’t have a lot are just as willing to share and give.”
In a few cases, Ellis and the other administrators selected a pair of shoes — which run the gamut from gently-worn to brand-new — to give to a needy child within the school.
“It really excites us to know our children are learning the IB process and that they are being aware of the needs of others,” Bragg said. “They’re not just thinking about themselves anymore, and that’s become an important part of Sale.”
Empathy has a ripple effect as well, Crusoe surmised as he recounted another story Cadden told his class.
“She brought an outfit to a girl in Haiti who was mean, and she started being nice,” Crusoe said. “I feel happy about everyone having shoes.”
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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