Learning about the plight of the less fortunate can be a real eye-opener.
“It’s just surprising how many homeless children there are,” Jayden Meyers said. “I always thought being homeless meant sleeping on the streets, not moving from house to house.”
The seventh-grader at Bethel Park’s Independence Middle School is among the students who will gather in Pittsburgh’s Market Square on May 24 to help further elucidate others about homelessness, as well.
“Stand Up for Homeless Children” is a performance art installation staged by the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, a Hill District-based nonprofit that has been offering support throughout Allegheny County for 20 years.
“We’ll stand in a circle and put the pictures that we drew in front of our faces, and then we’ll stand there in silence for 15 minutes to represent the homeless children who don’t have a voice to speak up,” seventh-grader Lacie Scheidler explained, saying that she also has gained a lot of knowledge about the issue: “I knew a little bit about homeless people, but I never thought kids our age could be homeless.”
Throughout the school year, students in Team Unity – an instructional group at Independence led by teachers Jackie McPherson, Shannon Welsh and Elisa Scheurerle – have been participating in a service learning project addressing youth homelessness, with the art installation as the culminating activity.
“It’s impossible to teach empathy without students having a hands-on approach to it,” McPherson said. “So this gets them involved.”
Each student will hold a hand-drawn portrait, a visual representation of a homeless child, in front of his or her face during the 15 minutes of silence. They’ll be wearing T-shirts they designed as another means to promote awareness.
“In the streets of Pittsburgh, I would see homeless people, but never homeless children. I never really thought about that,” student Ethan Jones said.
Independence students have been part of “Stand Up for Homeless Children” the past few years.
“I think prior, they are a little anxious: How will this go? What do I do, exactly? And then during the 15 minutes, I’ve been impressed with how mature they are,” Welsh said.
The activity has proved to be effective, she explained, as passersby often stop to ask the teachers how they can donate to the cause.
Team Unity students have been donors, too, conducting a book drive for the benefit of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund. Lacie said that she contributed nearly 30 titles: “All the books that I enjoyed and didn’t read anymore, I wanted to donate to them so they could enjoy reading like I could.”
Spanish teacher Christine Schipani had involved Independence students in the Homeless Children’s Education Fund previously, including a project several years ago to help launch a learning center in McKeesport. She has provided resources for the Team Unity teachers to carry on the tradition.
In the process, the students are getting a better understanding about the world in which they live, and they hope to do the same with “Stand Up for Homeless Children.”
“I didn’t really know anything about this,” seventh-grader Nivea Donati said, “and I would just like to make other people aware, since I wasn’t before.”
For more information about the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, visit homelessfund.org.