One of the activities on our (very long) to do list for the first week of school was writing Postcards for Charlottesville through the #DearYoungPerson campaign with our new third graders. On Friday afternoon, we carved out some time and got started.
We started with a read aloud of Painting for Peace in Ferguson by Carol Swartout Klein and used the book as an segue into a conversation about using art and images to help people feel better. Next, we asked students if they had heard of Charlottesville and looked at Charlottesville on a map to see how far it was from our school (less than 3 hours).
We received a variety of responses to our question, from “I’ve heard of it before” or “my family member works there”, to “there was a violent riot there.” We had two students who knew more details and shared longer explanations about white supremacists, torches, and terrorism. We confirmed details and explained to students that there was indeed a violent protest that hurt peaceful protesters and that the violent protesters were against anyone who wasn’t like them, be it a different skin color or race, or different religion.
Next, we shared that this made young people in Charlottesville feel scared and like they weren’t welcome or didn’t belong in their community because of hate. We told the students that we were going to design and write postcards to young people in Charlottesville and asked:
What images and messages could we send them through our postcards to help them heal?
What images and messages of peace could we send them?
How can we communicate that love is more powerful than hate?
At this point, one student expressed anger and the desire to punch people (related to a personal Jewish identity) who were marching in Charlotteville. In response, we reminded our students that love is stronger than hate, and while it’s natural to feel angry, we wanted to fight hate with love and send supportive messages to people who were hurt.
Finally, we gave students blank postcards and quiet time to illustrate and write. The results were wonderful and heartwarming. We wrote some ideas for what to say on the board, but students wrote messages of hope and how all religions should be respected all on their own. They also wrote “you are welcome here” and asked how to spell “community” to write “we’re a community” without any prompting. Some students really focused on the images as a way to convey comfort instead of trying to put messages into words.
While we refuse to act as though nothing is wrong or events in Charlottesville don’t affect us, (because they do and they definitely affect the lives of our students) we wanted to give our students an outlet and constructive action to complete as third graders are still very egocentric and literal so open ended conversations about the news can be anxiety inducing and confusing for them. We were proud and touched to see the images and messages of hope and unity that our students came up with on their own, as well as how inspired they were to lend comfort to others in a negative situation. We know there is so much more work to do and so much more progress needed, but it was a brief moment of hope, light, and respite.