Alan Dia, a fifth-grader at Rosa Parks Elementary in Woodbridge, Va., loves basketball shoes. On a recent school day, he sported a new pair of Air Jordans. His classmate John Weatherman wore a pair of Nike MGK’s.
Alan, John and another classmate, Jamauri Thomas, love sneakers so much that they decided to study them, making footwear the subject of a lengthy project they did for the school’s International Baccalaureate program. And when they learned that some children go barefoot because their families have no money for shoes — let alone brand-new Nikes — they were moved to action.
“Not everyone can afford shoes,” John said. “But some people can, and other people will need them.”
The trio collected 157 pounds of shoes from school families and others to send to a school in the Dominican Republic town of Constanza that their principal, Sue Danielson, visited three years ago as part of a charitable mission. One girl was so moved by the shoe drive that she told guests at her birthday party to bring shoes to donate instead of gifts, turning over several pairs to the boys.
Their group was one of several that transformed their research projects — done as part of the IB curriculum — into community service. A group of fifth-grade girls, all avid readers, collected about 75 pounds of children’s books. Two other groups donated art supplies and raised funds to buy medicine.
Nicole Boissiere, the IB coordinator at Rosa Parks Elementary, said the projects underscored the benefits of the curriculum, which emphasizes independent student inquiries and cross-disciplinary work, and prods students to examine the world outside their classroom walls. Rosa Parks was the first elementary school in Prince William County to have an IB program, receiving authorization in 2012.
“They have to take what they’ve learned and they have to apply it to our community,” Boissiere said. “Now that I’ve learned this, how can I use this information to make my community or my state or my world a better place?”
When they were searching for a community service element, many of the students recalled Danielson’s trip to the Dominican Republic. She and other educators traveled to the town of Constanza to help construct a school as part of a visit organized by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the school portraiture company Lifetouch. While she was there, Danielson regularly corresponded with her own students over Skype, sharing with them photos of children she hoped to help. She brought back every student a Dominican peso, as a way to remind them “that they too can make a difference.”
It worked. Her students remembered.
“When Ms. Danielson went to the Dominican Republic, we saw some pictures,” Alan said. They showed the children “were barefooted. Their feet would be hurting every single day.”
And he said they probably could not play basketball.
Another group of fifth-graders — Isabel Gallaro, Makena Farabee, Gabby Rosen — sought to share their love of reading with kids in Constanza.
“I like books because they help me escape reality for a few hours,” Gabby said. “I get to go into this fantasy world and live out the world with all my favorite characters.”
Gabby and her classmates study the origin of literature — from scrolls to modern-day paperbacks — and different genres. They spread the word of their book drive during the morning announcements — which are televised on closed circuit around the school — and left out boxes for people to donate. They will send about 75 pounds of books to the Dominican Republic.
Boissiere said another objective of the project is to show children that even small acts of goodwill can make a difference. It is a lesson they take from the school’s namesake, Rosa Parks, whose refusal to vacate her seat on a Birmingham bus helped to launched the modern civil rights movement.
“They are worthwhile, positive agents of change in our society and it doesn’t matter how old they are or how young they are,” Boissiere said.
The students said they were pleased to share the things they love — books, shoes and art supplies — with children nearly 1,500 miles away.
“It kind of feels good because now we can share reading with other kids and then they can also read books,” said Isabel.