Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Students learn about art, fair trade through work, chocolate

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Bill Ryan⁄The Gazette
Mount Airy Middle School sixth-grade students Dayquon White, Brett Shamer and Annie Plumley pack bamboo panpipes Tuesday from Peru.
About 30 students from Mount Airy Middle School took a field trip Tuesday and went to work.

They weren’t paid for their efforts in money, but in education, service hours and chocolate.

The group was the first class of sixth-graders that art teacher Pamela Malkin took to New Windsor to spend the day at A Greater Gift. The shop is part of Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocation (SERRV).

SERRV International is a nonprofit organization that helps artisans and farmers in developing countries by purchasing goods and foodstuffs they create at a fair price that the producers set, said Mary Ann Grossnickle, volunteer coordinator for SERRV.

The products are then shipped to New Windsor. The items are separated, labeled with price tags, and individually wrapped for shipping in anticipation of purchase orders.

That’s where the students came in.

The processing room was a bustle of activity as students gathered around tables, amid boxes, packing material and tape, chattering to each other as they prepared their items for shipment.

‘‘I’m wrapping them in plastic,” said sixth-grader Dayquon White after he attached a price label to a set of panpipes made of bamboo by artists in Peru.

‘‘Colorful, colorful, colorful,” he chanted, referring to the brightly colored woven band that secures the panpipes in place as he slides a set into a plastic bag, sealing it with tape.

‘‘They actually get to handle artwork from all over the world,” Malkin said.

Malkin, who is in her first year at Mount Airy Middle School, said she thought it would be a good place to take students to learn about art and what it means to work.

‘‘To me, it gives them a bigger picture of the world,” she said, ‘‘[and a] better appreciation that this is handmade artwork.”

Some of her classroom activities, such as teaching the students how to make clay whistles, was inspired by items she purchased at A Greater Gift.

The field trip to A Greater Gift is just one of the enrichment activities that Malkin is doing with her students.

She recently held an art show for parents at the school that showcased more than 800 pieces of work students created during the first half of the school year.

‘‘Everything they did was on display,” she said.

Malkin plans to hold a similar show in May to showcase work done the second part of the year, possibly tying it in with a chorus concert or school musical.

She would like to see it evolve into an evening of demonstrations where other departments can also highlight their work for parents.

Back at A Greater Gift, Dayquon was joined by classmates Kalyn Duley and Kara VanFleet, who were eager to help him package the panpipes after finishing with boxing clay whistles shaped like globes, also from Peru.

Kalyn said she enjoyed learning about the fair trade component that SERRV promotes through a demonstration involving chocolate from Africa. It explains how pricing products should be done in a way that the artisans and farmers are paid fairly for the item itself as well as the time and other costs that go along with making it.

‘‘It’s only fair that we pay the right price,” Kalyn said.

The chocolate and getting to work with the shipments was a highlight for the students, many of whom quickly snatched up volunteer forms on their way out.

‘‘All of this is great,” Dayquon said. ‘‘If I could work here, that would be great because we get service hours.”

Grossnickle said having students involved in volunteering at A Greater Gift was a positive experience because they could incorporate what they learned about fair trade into their own lives and relay information to their families and their friends. ‘‘They’re kind of our ambassadors.”

To learn more

Visit www.agreatergift.org.