Joliet’s Cunningham School assembles care packages for troops
By Tony Graf email@example.com October 21, 2012 11:30PM
Second-graders (left to right) Kamile Katilius, Isaias Aguirre, Brenda Hernandez, David Ricardez and Taiz Pardo help teacher Linda Smith assemble care packages Wednesday at Cunningham School. | Supplied photo
Updated: November 23, 2012 6:10AM
JOLIET — Nila Tye colored a picture of a red, white and blue flag and American soldiers — a reminder that Cunningham School remembers the troops serving in Afghanistan.
“I said: ‘Happy Halloween. Thank you for helping us,’” Nila, 8, said of her drawing to be sent overseas.
Nila’s teacher, Linda Smith, has a son serving with the Army in Afghanistan. At Cunningham, Smith organized a two-week effort to assemble care packages to be mailed to U.S. troops deployed in the decade-long war.
Smith left a donation box in every classroom, and got participation from the entire school. Last week, second-graders and their teachers separated the goods, packed them into boxes, and also drew pictures for the troops.
In all, 32 boxes of donated goods are being sent to Afghanistan, Smith said Friday.
“It teaches the kids that we need to take our learning beyond the classroom,” said Maria Arroyo, principal at Cunningham. “We’re always teaching the kids about giving and caring for others, all those social-emotional skills. With projects like these, that Ms. Smith put in place, it lets the kids be a part of going beyond the theory, or what they learn in the classroom, into an action.”
In the Cunningham lunchroom, students worked at four long tables: The first was filled with donations of soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant and shampoo. Farther down the table were donated granola and breakfast bars, gum and candy, and games and cards.
The second table had ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese and water flavor packets.
“I helped with the toothpaste, putting them in a box to help soldiers in Afghanistan,” said David Ricardez, 7, a second-grader in Smith’s class.
“I helped Ms. Smith pack the noodles,” Nila said.
At the third and fourth tables, students made Halloween and patriotic drawings to be sent to troops. These papers would be wrapped around Pringles cans containing cookies, which were donated by Smith, other teachers and Smith’s family and friends. Cunningham School collected 90 of these cans, and 130 dozen cookies were baked.
Smith, along with second-grade teachers Jennifer Viglielmo and Lucy Payla, guided the students in their work on Wednesday.
Smith wants to teach children about the value of this work, both in classroom discussion and volunteer team efforts like Wednesday’s. It all started last year, when Smith’s son visited Cunningham before his deployment.
“He came and visited some of the kids. He talked to them, told them a little bit about it. So it’s carried over into this year,” Smith said.
With this project, Smith wanted to help brighten the troops’ day around a holiday — in this case, Halloween. In classroom discussion, Smith has shown students why this is so important.
“We’ve explained, we’ve shown pictures, we’ve talked about how a lot of these soldiers just have their backpacks. I’ve shown them pictures of my son’s room, where you just have a few shelves — that’s all you have with you,” Smith said.
That is why care packages come in handy — with a special touch: a student’s kind words at a familiar time of year.
“Some soldiers don’t get a lot of stuff from their families,” said Kamile Katilius, 8, a second-grader in Smith’s class. “And when new packages come into the store they go to, they all go right away.”