LINGLE – Many students learn about the basics of community in a classroom, a much smaller number put this knowledge to use and collect donations for individuals affected by a natural disaster. Rachel Gibson’s third-grade class at Lingle-Fort Laramie (L-FL) Elementary took a hands-on approach to its social studies lesson last week, amassing approximately $2,000 worth of supplies, food and water for fire-ravaged Montana residents.
“We are learning about communities in social studies,” Gibson said. “The idea hit me on Saturday (Labor Day weekend) that this would be a great way for (the students) to put their learning into action – to apply what they have been learning to a real-world situation. That no matter how many miles lay between us, one community can and should help another.”
Gibson and her class had less than 48 hours to collect as many donations as they could for the project.
“At first, I just messaged my student’s parents and asked what they thought of the idea. They were all very responsive and encouraged the project,” Gibson said. “I then realized this could be so much bigger than just my class and reached out to the entire Dogger community at L-FL and to the community of Lingle … it was literally a fast-and-furious project.”
Soon, donations of water, non-perishable food, paper products, hygiene and cleaning supplies began pouring in.
“All of my students/families brought something in to contribute,” Gibson said. “We also contacted the North Hills Baptist Church, and they were willing to be a drop-off location in addition to the elementary school, so we had numerous donations we picked up that had been donated by various members of the surrounding community.”
Initially, Gibson contacted a truck driver who advertised via social media he was accepting donations to take to Texas for those affected by Hurricane Harvey. The driver was centered in Casper, but told Gibson he was willing to pick up supplies in Lingle on Wednesday, Sept. 6.
“Originally the plan was for the donations to head to Texas,” she said. “So many donations were received in Casper that the truck was full before it ever got to Lingle. Rather than sit on the donations until another truck was headed to Texas, I talked to my class and we decided we wanted to get them into the hands of people who needed them as soon as possible. As a class, we made the decision to change the location, and their donations are now Montana-bound for fire-relief efforts.”
Gibson, herself, was born and raised in Livingston, Mont. The class filled the back of her Ford Expedition with donations Friday morning, and she headed north over the weekend to meet her sister, who still lives Montana, and offered to deliver the supplies to a drop-off location.
Overall, Gibson said she believes the project was a resounding success.
“I wanted (my students) to feel a sense of accomplishment for being willing to step up and help another community in need,” she said. “I want them to be able to watch the news at night and be able to say they did something to try and help. They truly understand material goods can be replaced, but family and friends cannot. They understand natural disasters cannot be controlled and that this could be us tomorrow, and we might need the help of strangers. They understand the victims of these disasters have a very long road ahead of them, but hopefully we can help restore a little hope in their lives. Hopefully they will know that third graders in Wyoming have their backs and are cheering them on.”
Saturday, the Telegram received word from Gibson that, not only was she delivering donations, but helping her own family and friends evacuate after a new lightning fire ignited less than 10 miles from her sister’s home in Livingston.
“This project has taken on a whole new meaning,” she said.
Prior to the latest developments in Montana, Gibson expressed pride in her students and their generosity and empathy towards others – a feeling that has likely only increased now the natural disaster is hitting the elementary teacher even closer to home.
“(The students) loved (the project) and have learned so much more than I could ever teach them from a textbook,” she said. “They are thinking about their roles and responsibilities as a citizen from a whole new lens. They have also each written a quick note of encouragement to the individuals (who) will receive the donations.
“I wanted to make sure that our donations had a special touch,” Gibson continued. “Hopefully the person on the other end … will be encouraged to keep their heads up and