Education News

Orwell students reach out to Ukraine

EMMA LUCAS, CLARISSA Kirby and Naria Audet (left to right) were among the Orwell fourth-graders who pursued the idea of gathering maple candy for Ukrainian children needing a smile in the face of hardship and unrest. Photo courtesy Jenna Laslocky

STUDENTS IN JENNA Laslocky’s fourth-grade class at the Orwell Village School have been collecting maple candy intended to put a smile on the faces of Ukrainian children who are suffering through an ongoing Russian invasion of their Eastern European country. Pictured here are, clockwise from bottom, Alexis Given (in cowboy boots), Liam Quesnel, Clarissa Kirby, Boston Wilbur, Beck Saville and Emma Lucas.
Photo courtesy Jenna Laslocky

ORWELL — Orwell schoolchildren are hoping Vermont’s sweetest export will bring some sunshine into the lives of Ukrainian kids who are facing some of the darkest times imaginable.

What began as a goodwill gesture cooked up by youngsters in Jenna Laslocky’s 4th-grade class at Orwell Village School has blossomed into a multi-school effort within the Slate Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) to fly maple candy treats to their counterparts in Ukraine, a nation in turmoil since it was invaded by Russian forces on Feb. 24.

“I think we’re just sending some candy to give a little bit of love and some smiles on some kids’ faces, because I don’t think they’ve seen anything happy for a while,” said Orwell 4th-grader Beck Saville, who along with classmate Clarissa Kirby spearheaded the maple sweets drive.

Russia’s invasion and steady bombardment of Ukraine has indeed reverberated all the way to Orwell, where young students are trying to wrap their growing minds around the latest geopolitical conflict that is leaving men, women and children fleeing, injured and dead.

Laslocky’s students are glad to be cocooned in a picturesque town in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, but they’re heartbroken to see the images of Ukrainian refugees leaving their homeland, while the less fortunate are left to an uncertain fate.

But what can you do about a war an ocean away when you’re 9 or 10  years old with a half-full piggy bank?

You do something heartfelt and symbolic, something that might — for at least a brief moment — spark a smile in someone whose world is changing by the moment.

That lesson in symbolism began soon after Russia launched its incursion into Ukraine on Feb. 24. Clarissa, Beck and a few of their classmates began showing solidarity by covering Ms. Laslocky’s door with Ukrainian flags.

Providing humanitarian aid seemed like a tall order for her class, but Laslocky contacted a friend who teaches in Prague — the capital of the Czech Republic in Eastern Europe — and asked her how the Orwell students could at least impart some joy to their Ukrainian counterparts.

“She suggested candy,” Laslocky recalled.

“Who doesn’t love candy?”

Coincidentally, it was time when sugaring season was starting and Laslocky’s students had just finished reading a book by Kate DiCamillo titled, “The Beatrice Prophecy,” which references maple candy.

So it was decided: The class would assemble as much maple candy as possible to ship off to Ukraine.

IN ADDITION TO collecting maple candy for Ukrainian kids, Orwell Village School students have plastered teacher Jenna Laslocky’s fourth-grade classroom door with Ukraine flags and messages of support.Photo courtesy Jenna Laslocky

They got off to a nice start, because Beck’s family has a friend, Bob LaDuc, who’s a local sugarmaker. LaDuc became a trusted source for many of the maple treats in the Ukrainian care packages.

The students bought maple candy on their own, put it on their parents’ shopping lists and harvested as much maple syrup as they could find. The nice folks at Tradewinds Farm on Route 74 in Shoreham, along with the Warner family in Middlebury, have agreed to transform the syrup into candy.

DiCamillo was happy to learn her book had provided some inspiration for the children’s good deed.

“She sent us a beautiful note to tuck into the packages, and we had (her message) translated by a Ukrainian student at Middlebury College,” Laslocky said. “So we had this little message of love and support from us, with the eloquence of a famous author.”

The children are carefully wrapping the candy in blue and yellow paper — to represent the Ukrainian flag. Their efforts have thus far yielded two large bundles of maple candy — some soft, some hard, as well as taffy.

Laslocky’s students were excited to mail off the first package from the Orwell Post Office this past Friday. From Orwell, it will got to an international school in Warsaw, Poland, where representatives have agreed to take it to the border.

“We’re appreciative of the people who can get the candy across the border,” Laslocky said. “We’re hoping with a little more publicity we can find more ways to get it into (Ukraine), because we realize that candy is not really the priority right now. We’re trying to be respectful of the fact that they need food, shelter and medicine.”

Several more packages will follow to keep the amber-hued goodwill gifts flowing. The maple candy for Ukrainian kids effort has boiled over to 3rd- and 4th-grade classes in the SVUSD towns of Castleton, Fair Haven and Benson, thereby sweetening the payload of heartfelt confections.

And that’s another lesson learned by the Orwell students: That a few people can make a big difference.

“It basically shows what we’re doing — the power of one or two people starting the idea of the maple candy,” Clarissa said.

While it’s the Ukrainian children who will be getting the candy, Laslocky said her students are also reaping sweet rewards.

“It’s trying to make something that’s potentially scary into something a little less scary, by doing something positive, and it’s also teaching about action,” she said. “When you see something hard you can do something positive, no matter what your age is. It’s teaching compassion, and taking action, rather than just watching. And I’m learning from this class every day.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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