“I want [the students] to learn to be compassionate toward others, to appreciate what they have, but also recognize those who are in need and the fact that we can make a difference,” said Calera High School English and Leadership Teacher John Coley, who helped organize the campaign last year and again this year.
Coley said the idea was born from his experiences as a disc jockey for KLAK in Denison, Texas, now in McKinney, Texas, which hosted an annual event called Care Crew where the disc jockeys lived on the parking lot with different businesses and collected items for charity.
“I wanted the kids to experience what I experienced with those projects,” Coley said, and last year’s event successfully accomplished that goal.
“I think when the week wrapped up, [all the kids] were just, overall, more excited about Thanksgiving, and not just because they were hungry and miserable, but because they recognized all there is to be thankful for.”
Coley said after the Poverty Awareness Campaign last year, he noticed when there was complaining in his classroom, some of his students would step up and say, “You know what — we could have it a lot worse.”
“The fact that they recognize that and appreciate that, well, I think that’s pretty awesome,” Coley said.
Approximately 20 students are participating in the week-long event. They will live and sleep in cardboard boxes after school hours in the school parking lot with no food beside school provided breakfast and lunch. At 4 p.m. each day this week, the participating students will be required to check in with Coley, and they will do homework and sit and talk, but without the comfort of dinner or snacks. Security lights are in place, a chaperone is always monitoring the kids and the police department checks on the students as part of their evening patrol, Coley said.
“[The students] lives go on. They don’t get a break from school,” Coley said. “They still take their normal tests and do all of their normal homework.
“Just like anyone in a situation like this, they’re still expected to meet whatever is demanded of them, so they don’t get any special treatment in that sense. It makes for a kind of miserable week, but a rewarding week.”
Throughout Calera High School’s Poverty Awareness Campaign this week, posters will line the school hallways with nationwide and state poverty statistics, such as how many people are hungry and homeless and information on how people can help, who they can call and where they can make donations.
“We truly want this to be an awareness campaign and inform young people that there are those in need, and we can make a difference,” Coley said.
Coley said the school and the parents have been very supportive of the project, both last year and this year. The administration made provisions to keep the students safe, and Coley sent notes home to parents, explaining the project was not mandatory and not for a grade.
“I think the parents understand that the kids are getting a lot more out of it,” Coley said. “[The kids] are gaining an appreciation for what they have rather than the sense of entitlement that a lot of young people have.”
During the week, parents can come by the school with canned food donations and check in with the office, and someone will assist him in taking their cans and loading them into a parked school bus, which is holding all the donations, Coley said. Cash donations will be accepted as well. The school will use these cash donations to purchase more groceries to donate to Families Feeding Families in Durant.
“[The donations] stay in the area,” Coley said. “We sure appreciate everyone who showed us support last year, and we hope this will be a successful year as well.”