Wilde Lake Middle students raise funds for Darfur refugees

Someday, members of this year's seventh-grade class at Wilde Lake Middle School might be at the forefront of efforts to eradicate such social ills as genocide, animal cruelty, homelessness and deforestation.

The students are learning about social problems both at home and abroad, and on Wednesday night, they presented speeches about causes that have piqued their interest as part of Voices of Youth, a charity fundraiser.

The event comes on the heels of the students learning about the conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur. According to United Nations reports, more than 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million have been displaced since 2003 as a result of the conflict between Sudanese government forces and armed rebel groups.

Jeanette Swank, Wilde Lake seventh-grade English teacher and team leader, said the event raised $225, all of which will be donated to the Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools project, a nonprofit organization that educates Sudanese refugees living in Chad. Swank said the children have partnered with fellow student at Darfur Refugee Camp Djabal in Chad.

The students say learning about Darfur has made them passionate about social issues.

"This year, I've been so open to what's happening," said Wilde Lake seventh-grader Camden Gilreath. "I was so closed-minded, but now I can kind of see what's happening in the world. I feel completely different to know that there are horrible things happening."

Gilreath presented a speech on "Teacher Salaries." Other speeches included "Animal Testing" by Emme Rose Krasnick and "Negative Effects of Music," by Taylor Thomas. Students had earlier read their speeches in class and were selected by their peers to make presentations at the event.

"We were told by the English office that we needed to implement argument writing into the seventh-grade curriculum," Swank said. "I thought that it would be a good idea for students not just to write on something contrived but to write on something they cared about and were passionate about."

Students also gave speeches on such topics as health care, obesity, violent video games, bullying and celebrities. Swank said students' interests were so varied that it took a while to decide which charity to support.

"A lot of the students were into animal rights, and they wanted to give to that," said Swank.

Swank said the class is reading the Jane Yolen book "The Devil's Arithmetic," about a girl who is transported back to 1940s Poland, where she experiences the horrors of the Holocaust.

"We had been doing the Holocaust for so long, and they said we want to do something with people who are suffering and being persecuted," Swank said. "We looked into it and became a part of this Darfur Dream Team."

"Once you hear about all the terrible things that have been happening," said seventh-grader Emme-Rose Krasnic, "and learning about the Holocaust, it almost gives you that drive and that motivation where you want to speak out and you want people to know what's happening."

The students said that it has been eye-opening to learn about such issues in the classroom, and that lessons about Darfur have been unlike anything they've learned in school. They say that they are eager to learn more as well as to do more to be part of the solution.

Said student Taylor Thomas: "Due to Mrs. Swank and all the other English teachers teaching us about something that's actually happened, or happening in the real world, and not just textbook things, it makes me want to go out and do more speeches and raise money for more charities."


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