Good Neighbors

“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  On Tuesday, January 16, the Brookwood community gathered to show support for families who have been affected by forces of nature that have devastated many communities in recent months, such as flooding in Texas, wildfires in California, the earthquake in Mexico, and hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

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The Good Neighbors Steering Committee, comprised of faculty, administration and parents, looked at a number of extraordinary organizations involved in the response efforts for these natural disasters. For Brookwood, it was important that the chosen organization was not only active in the relief efforts for these specific earth’s forces, but also for relief needs that might arise in our own communities. We chose an organization that provides opportunities for community members and volunteers to assist when appropriate, reinforcing what it means to be a good neighbor. 

The American Red Cross hit all of those important markers, and provides support to those affected by disasters every day in local, national and international communities. Representatives from the Red Cross attended the event and shared a presentation about how their work impacts the lives of citizens around the world every day. We are proud to share that all of the proceeds collected from the Good Neighbors event will be donated to the American Red Cross.

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As with all educational matters, forays into relief efforts like the Good Neighbors event are more authentic and rewarding when students feel personally and directly invested in the experience. At Brookwood School, we believe that our students (even our very youngest) must have an understanding of the meaning of the efforts in which they participate. Teachers from all divisions spent weeks thinking creatively about how to integrate age appropriate education about natural disasters into their classroom curriculum so children would be involved from planning through inception. 

For example, 1st grade students had a Skype conversation with students at Greentree, an elementary school located in the Houston area. Children had the opportunity to ask questions, such as how deep were the flood waters, how did people get rescued, were pets okay, and how can we help? Since the most meaningful partnerships are reciprocal, it was wonderful when the children from Greentree inquired about weather conditions in Massachusetts. The conversation sparked curiosity from both sides and we look forward to building on this new relationship in the coming months. Students also created bookmarks using different art materials, such as watercolors, washi tape, scrapbook papers and magazine images. Many of the bookmarks had messages of kindness printed on them, such as 'brave' 'love all' 'hope' 'joy' and 'friendship.' Bookmarks were on display at the event, and students will also be sending a care package to their new friends in Texas. 

Another example of student engagement included Upper School students sitting at their Heron Cup House tables at lunch last week and discussing conversation starters such as:

  • Brush with kindness: Have you ever witnessed extraordinary kindness or participated in an act of kindness? Tell the story.
  • What you've broken or lost that belongs to someone else: Remember, loss can be tangible or intangible.
  • When I was lost: How were you found? Tell the whole story.
  • My favorite neighbor: Why?
  • A toy I’ve held onto all these years: Why? Tell the story.
  • Why are school fundraisers important?
  • How could you prepare for a natural disaster that is imminent (about to happen)?
  • How could the Internet be useful in the case of a natural disaster? Could it ever be harmful?

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Other projects included felted hearts, fleece hat making, hand mandalas, note cards, paper seed packets, flower pots, prevention and response research, models and simulations and food samplings. It was an incredibly powerful evening as students and parents alike took part in interactive activities ranging from "Wheel of Forces" (a customized version of Wheel of Fortune using math and science skills) to "Three Things You Would Take With You" (a simulation of evacuation preparedness).

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In addition to the projects and activities on display in the John C. Peterman School Meeting House, attendees enjoyed a steel drum performance by 5th grade students, a song about love and kindness performed by PreKindergarten students, and a hearty soup and salad dinner thanks to the Parents' Association. After the event, leftover soup was donated to Lifebridge, a non-profit organization located in Salem that offers a suite of essential services focused on education, employment and self-sufficiency targeting the needs of homeless and disadvantaged adults. Thank you to the parents who donated their time by cooking soup for the evening. For those who may want to recreate the dishes at home, here are the recipes that were used for chicken noodle soup, turkey chili, and butternut squash apple soup.

We are so grateful to our parents, grandparents and friends who were able to join us to experience first-hand the informed, deep and engaged response that was ultimately led by our students. We'd like to extend a special thank you to the members of the Good Neighbors Steering Committee for guiding the way for us all: Maile Black, Elise Koretz, Henry Oettinger, Karen Shorr, Annabel Wildrick, Carrie Woodruff, Kelley Journey, Nancy Evans, Lisa Johnson, Annie Johnson, Jennifer Lowrey, Eliza Cowan, Anne Bolno and Carey Shugrue. 

What a great night we had as Good Neighbors!

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