Laguna Middle School teacher Marc Townsend’s seventh-grade world history classes had just finished a unit on the tenets and origins of Islam when gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people and wounded hundreds of others in Paris on Nov. 13.
In response, Townsend and fellow world history and English teacher Lauren Knuttila decided to scrap their regular unit on the West African empires of the 12th through 16th centuries in favor of one that would give students an understanding of the crises happening across the globe, particularly focusing on how they can help, Townsend wrote on his blog for parents.
“We decided to have the students humanize rather than politicize the refugee crises all over the world, so each team was assigned a certain region of the world (that) refugees are fleeing from or fleeing to and focus in on what’s being done to help them with whatever crisis is happening,” he said.
The result: On Friday, students in Townsend’s fourth-period class were rushing to put the final touches on posters, websites and illustrations describing refugee situations in Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala and Peru.
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We’re trying to raise awareness to help the people around the world, all the refugees.
Laguna Middle School seventh-grader Raquel Kalpakoff
On Tuesday, the public is invited to Laguna Middle School to see the students’ work, ask questions and learn more about where some of the most dire refugee crises are occurring and how Central Coast residents can help.
“I had no idea about any of this,” said Julia Bloom, whose group was studying people fleeing drug trafficking and related violence in Colombia.
“It makes me not scared but sad about what we’re doing to ourselves in a way,” classmate Raquel Kalpakoff added. “It’s kind of depressing to think about what’s happening, but I’m happy to know we’re raising money for a good cause. We’re trying to raise awareness to help the people around the world, all the refugees.”
Students have wrapped gifts and sold white ribbons — the ribbon color for refugees and victims of crisis — and raised $211.50 so far to give to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (informally known as the U.N. refugee agency).
Two groups in the class had researched and chosen to focus on specific organizations helping refugees. Marc Ruiz and his team focused on the International Rescue Committee, founded by “the actual Albert Einstein” in 1933.
“I learned that refugees are people just like us, and we should be helping them,” Ruiz said.
I hope they (the public) will learn about what’s happening in the world, because some people don’t know, and that they can actually make a difference and help by donating.
Seventh-grader Sophia Silacci
Nearby, Sophia Silacci was creating a website about Shelter Box, which provides emergency shelter and supplies to communities around the world affected by disaster and humanitarian crises.
“It has taught me that this is an actual real thing because I never imagined that someone could actually experience these things,” she said, “and learning about Shelter Box kind of shows how good humans are in helping each other.”
About 50 teams of students will display their research on refugee crises from around the world on Tuesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in Laguna Middle School’s multipurpose room, 11050 Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo.
Students will display their posters, websites, letters to officials or organizations requesting their help, and a refugee camp built in Minecraft by a digital communications class.