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"The Mitten" Inspires Caring in Center School Kindergartners

“About seven years ago, I had a student who became homeless. The change in him was immediate. I saw a happy little child become so tired and just not himself. He moved to two different shelters during that school year. No matter what we could do for him as a school, it did not compare to how thrilled he was when he came in one day with his very own, brand new backpack from School on Wheels. I can still hear him telling his friends how cool his backpack was. That is why I reached out to School on Wheels. I saw, first-hand, the impact SOWMA had on this little boy.”

—Janice Narsasian, Center School Kindergarten Teacher, Easton

Each winter, teachers everywhere read The Mitten by Jan Brett to their young students. Janice Narsasian, a kindergarten teacher at Center School in Easton, uses this story of a group of woodland creatures, who crowd inside a cozy mitten to escape the frigid cold of a Scandinavian winter, to teach children the importance of sharing and caring for others in their community.

Center School kindergarten teachers Robin Goldstein, Joan McLaughlin and Lisa Powers, along with Narsasian, have done a community outreach project with their classes for the last two years. Kindergarten students and their families leave new books and warm mittens on and around The Mitten Tree in the foyer of Center School. The books and mittens are for School on Wheels children, who are impacted by homelessness and have very little to call their own. Teachers, secretaries and older students have been spied contributing items to The Mitten Tree, as well.

Through their donations, Center School kindergartners share the joy of reading, as well as opportunities for learning and adventure that a new book presents to children who are living in hotels and shelters. When a family first moves into a shelter, each family member can bring only two bags of possessions. Receiving a new book to bring into their temporary home and read, again and again, perhaps aloud to their family, can help build confidence and self-esteem as well as nurture a lifelong love of reading. Reading is the key to a child’s success in school.

Community service creates empathy and instills a sense of community responsibility in young people. By presenting this opportunity to help children their own age, Narsasian has engaged her kindergarteners at an early age. “We are grateful for the opportunity to help others,” she says. “In return, my kindergarten students told me that they felt happy inside. My hope for the Center School students is that this is the beginning of a lifelong practice of helping others.”

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