Anne Arundel County

Anne Arundel students lead fundraising efforts for Haiti

When state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick called on Maryland students to pitch in after the devastating earthquake in Haiti this year, they responded.

But none quite like the seventh-graders at Severna Park Middle School.

The Anne Arundel students were celebrated Thursday afternoon for raising $12,000 for relief efforts in Haiti — the most of any school in Maryland — in the statewide Maryland Kids Care Campaign, Operation Haiti: Collecting Pennies (and More). The Severna Park students donated the money to the American Red Cross.

Anne Arundel schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell told the students, who waved tiny Haitian flags at points during an hourlong assembly in their school gymnasium, that their efforts reflected the importance of not just achieving academically, but of being good people.

"Compassion and understanding and giving of yourselves is in many ways the more important goal," said Maxwell.

After a huge earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, Americans responded, donating millions of dollars to relief efforts. School officials looked for meaningful ways to get young people involved.

Lori Fowler, a seventh-grade math teacher at Severna Park Middle, who supervised the school's effort, said she first had the idea to raise money for a Haitian family one of her friends knows. But when Grasmick announced the initiative, she instead went to Principal Sharon Morell, who suggested the fundraising project be incorporated into the students' state-mandated service learning project.

Along with their fundraising efforts, which began in February, students learned about different aspects of the Caribbean country in class.

Students had raised about $2,000 when Fowler invited Julie Grier, a former student in Anne Arundel schools who was living and working as a therapist in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, to speak to them.

"It was silent in the cafeteria when she was talking," Fowler said. "She made a personal connection."

Listening to Grier recount her experience "just kind of took it to another level," said Paige Morris, a seventh-grader. Morris, like her classmates, shoveled snow for neighbors, did household chores and solicited donations from relatives in her fundraising efforts.

"It made me realize that we are so fortunate to have all these things, and now that we have the opportunity to help, we have to do it," said Paige, 12.

More than 530 Maryland public schools from all of the state's 24 school districts participated, raising a total of $507,020 to benefit Haiti, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.

Principal Kathy Arnold of Pinewood Elementary in Baltimore County and Scott Ruehl, principal of Mount Hebron High School in Howard County, attended Thursday's event; their schools were runners-up in the fundraising effort.

Grasmick said she wasn't surprised that Severna Park Middle was the top fundraiser, noting the school's track record for academic excellence and that it has been named a Maryland and national Blue Ribbon School.

"I love the fact that you made this part of your service learning projects," said Grasmick, adding, "We have an obligation to give back to those people who are needy."

Calling the students "humanitarians," Linnea Anderson, from the Central Maryland office of the American Red Cross, said the donation is being used for "food, shelter, clean water and health supplies." Anderson said the contribution has assisted 2 million Haitians.

Syndie Dalce, a representative from the Haitian Embassy in Washington, received a basket of poems from the students.

"Thank you so much for your love," she told the students. "Thank you so much for your passion."