- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

The tsunami disaster has made its way into school lesson plans and the sympathetic hearts of area teachers and students.

District, Maryland and Virginia school administrators say students in almost every school in their districts are studying earthquakes and tsunami waves such as those that killed more than 140,000 persons Dec. 26 in the islands and countries around the Indian Ocean and Bengal Bay.

Ninth-graders at Shaw Junior High School in Northwest are involved in a semester-long science and environmental project about the tsunami and will present their findings during a school assembly, said science teacher Beverly Headley-Ayotunde.

“The students’ interest and response has been wonderful,” she said. “The students have asked a lot of questions, [though] television coverage, what they have read in the newspapers and have heard on the radio have helped them to understand a little bit more about what is going on.”

Ms. Headley-Ayotunde said she will work with social studies teacher Ethelene Stoute and English teacher Alice Whitaker.

Mrs. Whitaker works with the school’s Honor Society and willlead fund-raising efforts.

The science classes will focus on such topics as waterborne diseases associated with natural disasters, while the social studies classes will help students identify parts of the world hit by the tsunami and how they are connected with the United States.

On Tuesday, school librarian Jacqueline Burnette introduced the ninth-graders to grolier.com, a Web site on which they can find information on the tsunami for the class project.

Still, the students are most concerned about helping young survivors.

“Students … had heard the children might not really get what is being collected, so they asked if they could donate food and clothing,” said Ms. Headley-Ayotunde. “This was a teaching moment to tell them the Red Cross and other emergency organizations like FEMA said they already had rice and some other food items. So the priority is money.”

The student government at Newport Mill Middle School in Montgomery County decided to raise disaster-relief money at their annual dance next week after learning eighth-grade classmate Molara Obe had family members in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit.

Molara’s mother and 3-year-old sister were visiting relatives but survived.

Principal Nelson McLeod said the mother and sister will return this week and that students expect to collect about $500 at the dance. He also said the earthquake and tsunami have become “instructional tools” in Newport Mill classrooms, too.

Students at John T. Baker Middle School in Damascus began raising money yesterday by selling water bottles, then filling them with coins.

Students in Prince George’s County’s 205 public schools are also studying the natural disaster and helping survivors, but have made many of the decisions themselves about their curriculum and how to raise money.

“It’s really coming from the students themselves,” said John White, a spokesman for the school system. “The students have really been paying attention and raising the funds.”

He also said Yorktown Elementary students are writing poems and short stories to send to children in the disaster area.

Allowing students to make such decisions is what parents and educators should do with young people after such a catastrophic event, said Dr. Joshua Mandel, director of school-based intervention programs at New York University’s child studies center.

“Don’t just tell a child to make a donation,” he said. “Let them come up with their own ideas, like writing letters [to survivors]. Let them do what they think is the most appropriate.”

Students at Gunston Elementary in Lorton are collecting stuffed animals to send to orphans in Sri Lanka. The animals are being offered for sale, but purchasers are being encouraged to pay for the toys but not claim them.

“The idea came from a school counselor with a friend whose brother runs an orphanage that was destroyed,” said Mary Shaw, spokeswoman for Fairfax County public schools.

Sri Lanka Embassy officials have asked that the collections be delivered to a Buddhist Temple in Wheaton.

At Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Arlington County, sixth-graders in Alexandra Workman’s science class are discussing the physics of tsunamis, including their tectonic causes and a comparison with regular wind waves, said Laura Neff-Henderson, spokeswoman for the county’s public school system.

Mrs. Neff-Henderson said that Woodlawn School teacher Christine Altizer is talking about the disaster in her eighth-grade world geography classes and that students are planning fund-raising events, too.

She also said that YES Club members at Abingdon Elementary School are using the school news network to report how much relief money has been collected.

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