St. Mary's 7th-graders study Syrian refugees

Tony Casey • Updated Mar 10, 2017 at 10:59 AM

St. Mary’s School 7th-graders studying the Syrian refugee crisis say they won’t soon forget about the war-torn people.

A recent project encouraged students to learn about all aspects of the civil war in Syria, including going over the history and geography of the county, conducting biographical sketches of President Bashar al-Assad, examining the Arab Spring as one of the catalysts for the conflict and considering the lives of the refugees and what students themselves can do to help.

For the last part, students established an imaginary nonprofit group. The managers of the nonprofits treated their classmates as potential donors and made one-minute pitches attempting to convince others to donate to help the Syrian people.

“You can really see it, you can really feel it,” said Carmen Palileo, whose nonprofit was called “Reading for Refugees.”

Palileo was quite struck by what she encountered when studying the Syrian refugee crisis and that’s what pushed her to pursue her idea.

She said books are a great way to make displaced people feel like they’re as at home as possible.

Many of the students’ nonprofits centered around refugee camps and trying to get them the best resources to help improve refugees’ situations.

Food, bedding and clothing, Nic Crockett said, would be covered by other organizations, so he sought to provide hand sanitizer and other sanitation products for those being kept at refugee camps.

Tripp Haynes said learning about Syria weighed heavily on his mind.

“This time it really sunk in with me,” he said. Haynes’ one-minute speech was so good he was asked to redo it for St. Mary’s principal Randi McKee. “I won’t be forgetting about this any time soon, and I think I’m going to try to help.”

Student Zinnah Fahngon probably knows this situation more intimately than all the other students in her class. Her parents were both refugees from Liberia.

They were able to tell her how that experience was and, for the the benefit of her nonprofit, she learned about the resources they wanted most when they were in that situation. With that, she advocated for getting care packages and paying a month’s rent for each of the refugees who would be hypothetically receiving her help.

In the past, teacher Kim Kenneson said research products were on more traditional topics — national parks or country profiles — but mixing in current affairs allows students to engage in a way they’ve never been able to. Plus, being a Catholic school, instructors got the opportunity to teach about values and language arts concurrently.

When Syria was picked as a topic, students followed the latest news closely and were able to watch YouTube videos from inside the conflict.

Kenneson, a former journalist, encouraged students to only get their information from the most credible sources.

On Thursday, her students were able to share the qualities of a reliable source versus less trustworthy media sources.

Email Tony Casey at tcasey@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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