Fort Mill Elementary teachers turn into turkeys for a good cause

Special to the Fort Mill TimesNovember 23, 2013 

Vereen Brown and her third graders visit the guidance room Wedne

Vereen Brown and her third-graders visit the guidance room Wednesday at Fort Mill Elementary. The Student Council’s November service project to turn teachers into turkeys this week raised more than $1,500 for the Red Cross’ relief efforts in the Phillipines.

STEPHANIE MARKS MARTELL — STEPHANIE MARKS MARTELL

— Student leaders at Fort Mill Elementary School voted recently to initiate some Thanksgiving silliness in support of a serious cause.

As one of their first official acts, the FMES Student Council decided the school should help support Red Cross typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines. They’re turning teachers into turkeys to do it.

“We came up with an idea to have students buy feathers for their teacher’s turkey,” said FMES guidance counselor and Student Council adviser Amanda Randel. “If their teacher gets the most feathers, than that teacher has to wear the turkey costume the next day. Their feathers were a quarter apiece.”

The fundraiser has been popular.

“I had no idea how excited the kids would get about bringing in their quarters and their pennies and their dollars to buy feathers, so we’ve been slammed every morning with kids lining up to buy feathers for their teachers’ turkeys,” Randel said.

Randel crafted a turkey costume out of a yellow apron, hand-cut felt feathers, and a turkey-faced hat. The teacher whose class brought in the most money each day – second grade teacher Stephanie Bellenger, third grade teacher Vereen Brown, fourth grade teacher Arlene Sunderlage, and fifth grade teacher Michael Lucas – had the honor of being the turkey.

“There’s been a little healthy competition among the grade levels and among the classes,” Randel said. “It’s fun because we have the turkey and the feathers and the costumes, but people have just been sending in so much. I think it’s because they know it’s going to a really good cause and they’re learning about this kind of stuff in their classrooms.”

Some of the students have learned in class about the typhoon that hit the Phillippines on Nov. 8 and killed more than 5,000 people.

“They are well aware of what’s going on in the Philippines,” said Brown, whose students saw coverage of the disaster on “CNN Student News” as part of their current events lessons. “That was pretty powerful. They realize this is a bad thing. Because of this they’ve seen, and it’s really touched their hearts.”

Brown said educators should be especially sensitive when helping young students process traumatic events such as natural disasters. That was especially the case in Brown’s classroom since one of her students had family members living close to one of the hardest hit areas of the typhoon.

The class celebrated Wednesday after third-grader Morgan Campbell’s family received word that her aunt Maria and four cousins had all been found alive in their small village outside of Tacloban.

“They’re alive. That’s all we know,” said Christian Campbell, Morgan’s father.

Campbell said information about survivors has been slow to come, trickling down by word of mouth. He said parents can sometimes be skeptical of the myriad of fundraising projects asked of their children, but he appreciates Fort Mill Elementary’s response in the face Typhoon Haiyan.

“You really know where the money’s going,” he said.

The response of students, parents and friends during the week-long fundraiser brought in more than $1,500 for the Red Cross, Randel said.

“It has been fun to see some of our favorite teachers dressed like turkeys, and I am thankful to be a part of such a giving community,” she said.

She offered some advice to parents and families when helping children cope with traumatic events.

“When talking with their children about natural disasters, I encourage parents to be open and honest,” Randel said. “To give children a sense of understanding about what happened, parents can provide the basic information without a lot of graphic details. Overexposure to media images can be stressful for children, so families may want to limit what their children see on TV. Parents can offer reassurance to children by talking about how rare natural disasters are, by sharing steps their family has taken to keep them safe, and by talking about advances in science that allow us to predict future weather. Children can feel helpless after learning about the devastation left behind after a natural disaster, so providing opportunities for children to help can give them back a sense of control.”

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