Schools Raise Money For Vermont-Based Haitian Project
02/08/10 7:34AM By Susan Keese  Download MP3
(Host) Images of earthquake-ravaged Haiti have inspired kids in schools all over the country to find ways to help. They've organized bake sales, car washes and talent shows.
At Green Street School in Brattleboro, a partnership with a school in Haiti adds a personal connection to the relief effort.
VPR's Susan Keese has more.
(Pennies scooped into cup)
(Keese) At Green Street School, members of Gail Greenleaf's third-grade class are counting money that students have brought in.
(Boys) "Thirty two. How many dollars are we supposed to have in a cup?"
(Keese) The students were first pressed into service to count the change when a first-grader persuaded his family to donate a coffee can full of coins that had been collecting in their house.
(Boy) "It turned out to be $234.63."
(Boy) "Everybody in our school is donating money to help Haiti."
(Girl) "Our school has a partner school in Haiti, so we feel like we need to be helping."
(Keese) Green Street is one of six Vermont schools partnering with Haitian schools in a project called AyitKonseVet, or Haiti Conservation-Green. The project's founder, June Levinsohn, lives in Dummerston when she's not in Haiti.
Levinsohn says gardens are also planted at the schools in Haiti.
(Levinsohn) "What we have now in Haiti is a small project devoted to agricultural education, literacy for children and adults, And we have little reforestation nurseries and school gardens , goat raising on a small scale some of everything that's needed to make an agricultural community."
(Keese) Levinsohn had the idea of connecting the Haitian schools in her project with schools in Vermont that also have gardens. She saw it mainly as a chance to teach Vermont children about Haiti and its people.
(Levinsohn) "Instead of parroting those stereotypes you know AIDS, poorest country in the world, as if there's nothing else but those statistics."
(Keese) Green Street fourth-grade teacher Laura White does a garden with her students and she thought working with the Haitian schools was a good idea.
Last year White and another teacher visited the Haitian partner schools and gardens with June Levinsohn. They didn't take students because White says Haiti is too "unpredictable" to take a group of fourth-graders.
(White) "But I was able to show them photos of families we visited with, people that we ate dinner with, beds that we slept in these tiny little houses... for me telling those personal stories it's so different from reading a book."
(Keese) As soon as news broke about the earthquake, White says the fifth-graders who studied Haiti last year were asking about their friends.
She says it turns out that the partner projects are north of the worst earthquake damage.
(White) "We were lucky that our personal friends have not lost their homes, but they've all lost relatives in Port au Prince and they are now hosting many relatives that are homeless now."
(Keese) While their Haitian friends are helping their relatives, Green Street School has raised $1,700 so far. And they're not done yet. Fifth grader Kia Hulch was on her way to make lapel pins to sell.
(Hulch) "I feel like I owe it to them to do something because we've been connected to them for a couple years. And if we're just going to learn about them in fourth grade and then forget about them when they're in need, then we're not really keeping up our part of the friendship."
(Keese) White says children cope with tragedies more easily when they feel they have the power to do something.
For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.