Morgan Park Middle School students help Haiti one necklace at a timeSeveral days a week, art teacher Chrissy Valento heads to Morgan Park Middle School in the early morning to fire up the kiln in her classroom. In the kiln, she carefully places the snippets of colored glass students in her after-school EXCEL class have pieced together.
Several days a week, art teacher Chrissy Valento heads to Morgan Park Middle School in the early morning to fire up the kiln in her classroom. In the kiln, she carefully places the snippets of colored glass students in her after-school EXCEL class have pieced together.
Reaching up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, the kiln melts the glass pieces into small pendants that are made into necklaces. As part of a service learning project each EXCEL class must complete, the students then sell the necklaces for $5 on Wednesdays and Thursdays during their lunch hour.
The funds the students raise from the necklaces are donated to Friends of the Orphans, and Water.org, organizations that allowed Valento to pick Haiti as the designated area for the donation. Valento said the funds equip Haitian children with school supplies, and they also provide people throughout Haiti with health care and clean drinking water.
“I made sure to do my research by going to the Better Business Bureau’s website of charity agencies to make sure they were on there and were legitimate,” said Valento, who teaches sixth- through eighth-grade art classes. “I wanted to make sure the money was getting there and that the hard work my kids were doing wasn’t for nothing.”
Starting out with the initial goal of raising $150 to sponsor a Haitian family, the group of 21 students has raised $1,030 as of Wednesday.
“The people in Haiti don’t have a lot, but we’re doing good things for them,” said Jenna Skull, a seventh-grade student in the EXCEL class. “It’s not only knowing you’re doing something good for other people, but that you’re having fun doing it.”
With a $200 grant for service learning from radio station B105-FM and Maurices, Valento went to Peachie’s Stained Glass in Superior, Wis., to buy materials for the necklaces, which included a special kind of glass for fusing, coils to make hooks, and string.
Made up of students in sixth- through eighth grade, Valento’s EXCEL class started the project in November. Valento said the class still has funds from the grant that is continuing to provide materials to make necklaces, an activity the students do one or two days a week.
She said the idea to make the necklaces and donate the money to Haiti came directly from the students, who knew that the country has people who are in need.
“The kids saw one of my necklaces last year, and I said, ‘I’ll teach you guys how to make these,’” Valento said. “They are just so willing to work on whatever is needed, and they really understood that in service learning, you both create something and do something good for someone who is in need.”
Since November, the students have been willing to create necklaces whenever they get the chance. In an hour-class period, a group of students usually assembles nearly 35 necklaces.
“To make a necklace, you first have to choose a bottom and then some small pieces of glass to put on top,” said Moira Feehan, a seventh-grade student in the class. “Then you put a tiny dot of glue on the top and a clear piece of glass over it.”
The process of making the pendants is one that allows students to be creative. Valento said she tries to purchase a variety of colored glass that she cuts into small pieces. Students then arrange these pieces onto a square piece of glass that serves as the base of the necklace.
“It’s a cool process, and I like the designs we do. No design is like another one,” said Rainy Cooper, a sixth-grade student. “And it’s something you can cherish and remember for a long time.”
“You get to put your own style into it,” added Crystal Graves, a seventh-grader in the EXCEL class, which meets three days a week. “I always choose a pretty base like a blue one and use it to my advantage to make something like a waterfall.”
Once the students create their own design, Valento puts the glass into the kiln, where it takes around six hours to fuse together. The sharp edges of the glass round out and form pendants that can be made into necklaces.
Before the glass goes into the kiln, Valento adds a coil to each design that is used as a hook for the string of the necklace. The hook is fused into the glass when it is inside the kiln. Once they are taken out of the kiln, the pendants take around eight hours to completely cool.
The necklaces are then pinned to a board that is taken to the lunchroom to be sold. Valento said students are always excited to look at and purchase necklaces and that the project has caught the attention of many staff members.
As an after-school program, EXCEL is also designed to be a place for students to complete homework and develop social skills. When it comes to the future of their service learning project, the group says they will continue to assemble necklaces and sell them as long as the grant money lasts.
“I’ve truly been impressed by my kids,” Valento said. “I’ve got a few low-income children in my group who could really use the money themselves. The fact that so many are willing to give when they are in need impresses me.