Kids helping kids

The Edgartown School helps out a school in Texas after Hurricane Harvey.

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Nicholas Rabeni, left, and Jack Laird contribute to the fund. — Gail Gardner

When the doors of the Edgartown School opened on Sept. 5 to hundreds of kids ready to begin their new school year, the students and staff of the Hull-Daisetta School in Hull, Texas, were facing the reality of life after Hurricane Harvey. The Category 4 hurricane approached Texas in late August, hovering over parts of the state for several days, resulting in 40 inches of rainfall and catastrophic flooding. Sadly, the Hull-Daisetta School wasn’t spared by the storm. And that’s where this amazing story begins.

During the first week of school here, it became readily apparent that the staff and students wanted to find a way to help Texas. The big question was, How? An initial meeting took place in the classroom of social studies teacher Nedine Cunningham. “It was really a grassroots movement within the school,” Principal John Stevens said. “Teachers really wanted to help, so we called the first meeting to discuss our options.”

Fifth grader Cayden Bresett raised over $400 for the Hull-Daisetta School.

The logical choice was somewhat obvious from the start: kids helping kids, one school helping another, and the idea of adopting a school was born. Ms. Cunningham had already begun her research, sharing the website Principals Helping Principals with Mr. Stevens and the rest of the teachers at the meeting. This website provided a list of schools that desperately needed help after the storm.

While Mr. Stevens initially reached out to the Edgartown School staff to see if anyone had any ties to the Houston area, he ultimately chose the Hull-Daisetta School from the list on the website. Hull-Daisetta is a very small school in Hull, Texas, a town with a total population of 669 as of the 2010 census, with 229 students in the school.

According to Mr. Stevens, “It seemed like a logical choice for us. It’s a small school, from a small community. And those schools and areas sometimes get missed when it comes to aid. The school was severely damaged by flooding.”

Mr. Stevens then reached out to the principal of the Texas school, Kevin Frauenberger, to discuss the best method of helping. Principal Frauenberger hadn’t even been able to fully comprehend the damage and needs yet. The flooding had destroyed much of the library, so books would definitely be needed. But everything in the school was damaged, and it was going to take some time to figure it all out. Additionally, as a principal of such a small community, he was also trying to help his students whose families had suffered significant damages. Principals Stevens and Frauenberger agreed that a monetary donation would be the best option, allowing Frauenberger to put the money to use where he felt it could do the most good.

With all of this in mind, the Edgartown School went to work, literally. Fifth graders Jack Laird and Nicholas Rabeni did a pop-up lemonade stand in downtown Edgartown, while fellow fifth grader Cayden Bresett had a bake sale. The boys asked for donations instead of charging for their goods.

When asked about his experience, Jack said, “We were talking a lot about hurricanes in class, and Nick and I really wanted to do something to help, and we decided on a lemonade stand. We made over $500, and we donated $266 to the school in Texas and $300 to the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Nick said, “We were talking a lot about the hurricane, so we just decided to do it [sell lemonade]. We went to Jack’s house and made posters, and then went into town to set [the stand] up, because that’s where most of the people were. Some money went to the school, and some went to the Virgin Islands, because that’s where Jack’s dog is from.”

James Thornton collects change for the Hurricane Harvey relief fund.

Cayden chimed in beside them: “I heard Jack’s mom [Deanna Laird] talking about a lemonade stand, so I started thinking about something I could do to help. So I decided to do a bake sale. People could donate what they wanted, and take some food. It was at the end of my street, and I made over $400. Some went to the [Texas] school and some went to the Virgin Islands.”

Bryan Sornas, a sixth grader, took a different route entirely. He worked with his father all day painting, on a beautiful Saturday when most kids would have been outside playing. Bryan earned $100. When asked about why he worked so hard, he grinned his customary wide grin and said he “just really wanted to help the other kids.”

Kids weren’t the only ones helping out, however. Teachers also joined in the effort, led by Ms. Cunningham. Ms. Cunningham, with the help of the Edgartown School PTA, was able to garner donations from local business for a raffle. According to Ms. Cunningham, “It was really inspiring to see the positive response from the Island community as we raised money for this school. The Green Room, Coop’s Bait and Tackle, Shiretown Meats, and Vineyard Vines either discounted their prices or donated some great items. Dennis daRosa donated space for us to have a table at Tivoli Day.”

Raffle tickets were sold during Tivoli Day and at the Edgartown Stop & Shop, as well as in the school lobby every morning.Teachers who volunteered their time to sell the tickets included Tess Temple, Nicole Barlett, Nichole Shank, Megan McDonald, Jayne DeBettencourt, Laia Riog, Kim Tharp, and Penny Hageanon. Students Alex and Jack Walsh and Noah Smith helped sell tickets as well. Seventh graders Evelyn Brewer and Cassandra Silva arrived early to school every morning to sell tickets in the lobby, and according to social studies teacher Pati Nelson, “have shown themselves to be both positive and knowledgeable regarding any and all information pertaining to the raffle and those it affects. Cassandra is an awesome manager and Evelyn is the P.R. queen!”

Many classes collected pennies and pocket change in jars, which were then emptied into the larger jug in the lobby. Johanna Wooden’s kindergarten class collected money in small bottles, and Gail Lachapelle’s first grade class filled two jars with money in their classroom. At Open House, parents were invited to write a list of chores their kids could do to earn money for Hull.

Lastly, the students of the Bridge program contributed some of their hard-earned money to the cause. Students in this program work throughout the building, earning money for some of their fun activities. They fold towels and fill napkin holders in the cafeteria, and help other staff members where they can. This money goes in their classroom bank. They then worked with their teachers to take some of the funds to purchase raffle tickets to help the cause.

As a teacher, I was able to take advantage of our inter-school email system to easily reach out to the other Vineyard schools about any activities they were doing as well. Principal Megan Farrell shared that the Oak Bluffs Student Council is having a “fun-raiser” that is called Hats for Harvey. Students may donate a dollar every Friday so they may wear a hat in school. Presently they have raised more than $1,000, which they have donated to hurricane relief, and which is being matched by the Gates Foundation.

Additionally, Principal Sara Dingledy from the high school shared that the junior class has done some fundraising for the cause, while members of the school sailing team spent one day collecting donations outside the Black Dog.

A website has been set up for the benefit of the Hull-Daisetta School as well. Centerpointe Christian Church of Lexington, Ky., has set up a shipping container to collect material goods needed to get the school back up and running. The web address to learn more, or to make monetary contributions, is truckfortexas.com.

In total, the Edgartown School raised $6,823.41 for the Hull-Daisetta School. When informed that a check was forthcoming, Principal Frauenberger said, “People have gone above and beyond to help us and our students. You don’t know how much this is appreciated. Thank you again from all of the Hull-Daisetta family.” Principal Stevens mailed off a registered letter with the check to Principal Frauenberger, who wished he could have been in more frequent contact. As you might expect, given his circumstances, the overtaxed principal is spending all his time and energies on the needs of his students, their families, and their school. They are, however, most grateful and touched by the efforts of a school so far away.

The students and staff of the Edgartown School are excited to continue a relationship with the Texas school in the future. Once repairs are complete and the school has reopened, which Principal Frauenberger hopes will be by next spring, many Edgartown teachers hope to reach out and explore how much our schools and communities have in common.