Aberdeen and Livingston, Texas, may be more than a thousand miles apart, but the students of Aberdeen Middle School feel very close to four families in the flood-ravaged town.
As part of a community service project, the school has decided to support the families, who losttheir homes and belongings during the 2 1/2 weeks of heavy flooding that plagued southeastern Texas during the Christmas season.
"I got the idea during Christmas when they showed the flooding ontelevision," said Agnes S. Purnell, the school's principal.
"The news showed flood victims that lost everything and towns that were struggling to recover from total devastation. I wondered if the kids would be moved enough to participate."
So many students volunteered for the project, Purnell had to limit participation to two students from each of the 50 classes. The 100 students are responsible for planning the activities and relating them to the rest of the 1,137 Aberdeen students.
Joseph W. Bigham, an eighth-grader, said all of his friends have become enthusiastic supporters of the project. "EverybodyI talked to is behind it," he said.
Several planning meetings have been held, and the students have decided to adopt four families -- preferably ones with children -- who have been hit the hardest.
"Iknow I will feel a lot better trying to help people," said Jewell V.Dunlap, an eighth-grader who lives at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Kalola J. Chancellor, another eighth-grader, said she understood the losses the people feel. Her family is from Killeen, Texas, and her aunt was killed during the October shooting spree at the Luby's cafeteria that resulted in 22 deaths and 15 injuries.
"It is very hard to lose family members," she said, referring to the 15 people who lost their lives during flooding along the Trinity River.
The Red Cross of Livingston will be selecting the families for the school.
Asof Thursday, Richard Coolidge, the head of the Livingston Red Cross,had not selected the families, but said he expected to make the selections soon now that his organization was closing down some temporaryflood shelters and could focus on other needs.
Under current plans, the Aberdeen students will collect canned goods and clothing through the second week of February. They'll ship the donations to the families in Livingston, which has a population of about 6,000.
Then they'll focus their attention on raising money through a dance and carwashes. They also will be holding a grade-a-thon, in which students pledge a sum of money if they can get targeted grades in their classes.
In addition, the students are distributing collection cans to businesses in Aberdeen.
Their goal is to raise $1,500. They've already received $125 in contributions -- thanks to a TV news story abouttheir efforts.
The students hope to raise the money by Easter in April.
And, they hope a student and a teacher will be able to makethe trip to Livingston to deliver the money, along with toys and books.
Having students participate in a community service project such as this one is as important as schoolwork, Purnell said.
"We want them to be contributing citizens and we want them to feel good about themselves," Purnell said.
"We want them to learn that their goals in life should not be the accumulation of wealth. But they should do things that will have some impact on the world. They have to develop the feeling that something would not be done unless they did it."
When Purnell came to Aberdeen Middle School this September, after serving as an assistant principal at Havre de Grace High School, she created a service organization, which she called Students Organized to Serve.
"So much of what we do as adults is the result of something that we did at the age of 13," she said. "We want them to learn how to come together for a common cause."