POINCIANA – At a time of continuous budget cutting by state lawmakers, schools have gotten used to making their own painful cuts — ones that, educators hope, do not end up diluting the impact of the learning experience for students.
For some schools, its the arts that usually land on the chopping block early on.
“The arts are usually the first thing to go in the schools,” said Mary Raith, a teacher at Reedy Creek Elementary School.
That means if educators want to keep the arts in the classroom, they have to find a creative way of incorporating it into their studies.
That’s exactly what Vicki Bachman, who teaches fifth grade at the school off Poinciana Boulevard, accomplished when she introduced her students to a new project: Empty Bowls.
“It was a great experience,” Bachman said. “I love the tie-in with the arts. We like that aspect of it. Teachers can bring art into their curriculum, but this was an additional activity.”
Empty Bowels, as the project is called, started out with students learning a bit about pottery – making bowls that they hand crafted and painted themselves.
But the project had a larger goal: to raise awareness among students of the concepts of poverty, hunger, and helping others – and to give them a chance to do just that by assisting needy families in nearby Intercession City.
On Thursday, hundreds of bowls made by students, parents and teachers were sold for $10 each, at a charitable event at the school. At the same time, the staff at the school had a special dinner in the cafeteria.
“It’s just going to be soup and bread,” Bachman said. “Nothing fancy.”
“We’re going to feed them a bowl of soup and remind them that to some families, this is dinner on a good night,” said Kim Leonard, an assistant at the school who runs their math lab.
It was Leonard who discovered the project when she attended an educators conference last year, and learned that other schools had done Empty Bowls, with great success.
“With my enthusiasm, I brought it here,” she said.
Reedy Creek kicked off the project on Jan. 17, followed it up with a second parents night on Feb. 17, and then it culminated in Thursday’s dinner and sale of the finished products.
There were tables lined with empty bowls in the school’s media center — hand painted, each one separate and distinct from the one next to it. The proceeds from the event were donated to the Central Florida Intercession City Bread Basket, a 19-year-old non-profit agency that helps needy families in the area.
Bachman said the students got excited about working on a project that was not just artistic, but for a good cause.
“It was great to see them be willing to extend to other people, and to appreciate what they have,” Bachman said. “It’s kind of eye-opening to let the kids know everyone has needs. That’s a big message for little kids to get. But was it a good initiation for the kids? Yes.”
“Part of their enthusiasm,” Leonard added, “was they were doing the bowls for a donation.”
It was an impressive project for John Mangini, president of the Community Bread Basket located at 1525 Immokalee St. in Intercession City.
“I think it’s phenomenal,” he said. “I’d never heard of Empty Bowls before.”
Mangini said he would use the money donated by the school to buy computers for other needy children. He added that the students’ involvement in helping his cause may also have opened their eyes to the rough impact the recession has had on Central Florida.
“”We have people living in the woods, we have people living in hotels that we assist,” he said. “There’s no area oblivious to this recession.”
Leonard said the project also helped bring the entire community together, since parents, students and teachers all worked together, enthusiastically, on the Empty Bowls project.
“It’s the community caring for people,” she said. “It’s the kids learning how to take care of others.”
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