RAVENA — Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk students, teachers and senior residents have been working together on two different initiatives to help support Australia in its battle against uncontrolled bushfires.
The fires began in June 2019 and have reportedly burned 72,000 square miles, destroyed 5,900 buildings, and killed at least one billion animals and 34 people. The country’s tourism industry, air quality and economy have also been devastated.
The A.W. Becker Elementary School Council raised $400 with a coin drop since last month, with all proceeds benefiting the Australia Wildfire Fund. Principal Debra Neubart said she sent a letter to students’ homes on Jan. 13 regarding the ongoing Australian bushfires and the school’s planned fundraising campaign. The coin-drop container is at the school’s main office which also accepts donations in envelopes.
While this campaign concludes later this month, Neubart said, “Everyone has been very generous so far and if anyone still wants to contribute, we are still accepting donations.” She added that some of the donations have been sent to the fund on the week of Feb. 2 and the next submission will be during the week of Feb. 16.
The aforementioned Jan. 13 letter also included a template for students to each draw and color a koala in support of Australia and to raise awareness of what’s happening there. Around 150 students designed their own koalas, which are posted as a giant mural in the school’s main lobby.
Neubart said the school council’s president was the one who brainstormed with her last month to find ways for the school to contribute to Australia’s battle with its bushfires.
“She was passionate about doing something and I wanted to do something too,” Neubart said. “She wanted something related to koalas and we didn’t have to only donate to show support for the koalas. The koala mural will stay up until probably March.”
Neubart said she first heard about the Australian bushfires in the news and felt a personal connection because she has extended family there and she has visited the country before.
“I spent several months touring the country and my extended family is okay,” she said. “But it was quite devastating to hear.”
“Everyone has been very generous and the students have been very passionate in wanting to learn more about the efforts in Australia and how they could help,” she said.
For more information, visit www.rcscsd.org/a-w-becker-students-build-support-for-australia-wildlife-fund.
Also since last month, 15 RCS middle school and five high school students worked with six senior residents at the Van Allen Senior Apartments in Glenmont to make around 125 Joey Pouches in response to the Australian bushfires.
According to the district’s website, the Joey Pouches “are designed to protect and offer comfort to animals that were impacted by the crisis,” inspired by joeys being nurtured inside their kangaroo mothers’ pouches. There has been an international call from Australia for people to make and donate Joey Pouches that mimic real-life kangaroo pouches; they will not just serve orphaned joeys but also other small affected animals like koalas.
Erin Sawyer, a middle school social studies teacher, said she and a colleague, Daria Carusone, run the STARS intergen program with Linda Bruno who heads it. The program connects RCS students with the aforementioned seniors so different generations can learn about one another through projects like learning how to cook and teaching seniors how to use technology. When they learned that Joey Pouches are in demand in Australia, they decided to make it a project for their students and the participating seniors.
Sawyer said there was an online pre-made template for Joey Pouches so she, Carusone and Bruno bought the fabrics needed for the students and seniors.
“It was really cool to see them working together for a common cause, especially in terms of sewing because that’s usually something teens and pre-teens don’t have on their minds today,” Sawyer said. “There was some difficulty with the template initially and some mistakes were made cutting it. But some students stepped up and created like an assembly line to get the work done.”
Sawyer added that the project was beneficial to the students because “when you’re anywhere between 12 and 17 years old, it’s easy to think about your own personal world. But this was an opportunity for them to care about something outside their community that has a true global impact. The kids were very excited.”
Sawyer said the 125 Joey Pouches were recently sent off to Australia and the students also have been working on presentations to show the seniors about what they have learned about Australia.
“The students were surprised when we showed them just how big Australia is compared to the U.S. after we superimposed the two countries together on a map,” she said. “Young people also often associate one or two things with a country and for Australia, it’s often kangaroos and koalas. But it’s good for them to know there’s so much more there.”