Walking into Columbia Independent School, I immediately noticed the cultural respect and understanding this school is instilling in their students. I was sent to pick up what I thought would be a small load of winter clothes that the students at CIS had collected for Refugee and Immigration Services’ Winter Clothing Drive. After speaking with the secretary at the front desk, she led me to a giant box, about 4 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide, filled to the top with winter clothing. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that my jaw dropped. I wasn’t sure if my car was even big enough to take all of these donated clothes with me!
Ellen Jorgenson is the teacher at CIS who sparked the flame and inspired her students to participate in the Winter Clothing Drive for RIS. Ms. Jorgenson is a middle school Social Studies teacher at CIS and has also taken on the responsibility of Global Perspectives Program Coordinator for the school. I met with Ms. Jorgenson to learn more about her interest in global perspectives, tour the school, and learn why she chose to have the school participate in a clothing drive for refugees. This is Ms. Jorgenson’s first year teaching, as she recently returned from the Peace Corps in South Africa. She can even speak some Swahili, and likes to share these skills with her students.
Ms. Jorgenson told me that the Global Perspectives Program had recently set up a Cardboard Challenge Day of Play. The school building was covered with various cardboard structures, designs, and arcade games that students and their families came in and set up for everyone to play and look at. This took place in accordance with their annual Trunk-or-Treat event on October 26. The Cardboard Challenge helped the students understand the impact they have on the environment, and their responsibility to take care of the planet. Ms. Jorgenson decided to kick-off the clothing drive during the event, and had a box set up for students and families to drop off winter clothing.
Columbia Independent School also put information about the Winter Clothing Drive in the school newsletter that went home to parents. In addition, the school hosted assemblies where students learned about who refugees are, the difference between a refugee and an immigrant, where refugees in the Columbia area are from, and why they need winter clothes. Ms. Jorgenson says that the response from parents was amazing.
Ms. Jorgenson is a supporter of project-based learning, and likes when students are able to do projects to gain a better global perspective. Recently, the 8th grade class took a trip to Heifer International, where they stayed the night in a re-creation of a refugee camp. The students were able to learn about and experience firsthand the lives of refugees who live in similar camps around the world.
Aiding Ms. Jorgenson in this endeavor were High School Global Issues teacher, Jennifer Anderson, and Morched Ben-Ayed, the middle school math teacher. In the past, the Global Perspectives Program has hosted drives for the Food Bank and the Salvation Army, so the teachers were excited to be able to share a new and unique opportunity with the school. Ms. Jorgenson says that she wants the students to consider the diversity in our community and realize the different populations that are part of our community. In the future, Ms. Jorgenson says she hopes to have more speakers come in and talk with the students. After the Winter Clothing Drive, she would like to have a refugee come in and share the story of their journey to the US.
Refugee and Immigration Services is volunteer supported, and would never be able to support refugees the way we do without the aid of people in the community like Ms. Jorgenson and the students at Columbia Independent School. Learning to have a better global perspective is a huge step to an inclusive society and community, and these students are well on their way! Overall, RIS received about 30+ children’s coats and other winter clothing items from the students and families at Columbia Independent School, and we are so grateful for their generosity!