A lesson in compassion

May 15—OTTUMWA — The dogs barked constantly, but the cats were cats.

That wasn't the most important aspect of Eisenhower Elementary first-graders reading to the animals, though. It was the act of showing up.

The first-graders visited Heartland Humane Society Tuesday to read to the adoptable pets as part of a larger lesson in compassion. The visit was part of a month-long, school-wide project orchestrated by teachers Kristen Carlson and Anna VanEgmond, as first-graders made it known throughout the school building they were doing this, and asking for donations they could take with them to the no-kill animal shelter.

"This was a good one to teach compassion. This one was near and dear to me because I have three adopted dogs of my own," Carlson said. "But I also feel like kids need to understand what volunteering is all about.

"If kids learn compassion when they're young, then helps with their mental health, and that's a huge thing."

Carlson said each school in the district takes part in Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) as a way to build a positive student culture, and Carlson sees herself as one of the torch-bearers in that effort.

"As an educator it's my responsibility to nurture empathy, compassion and kindness," she said.

Part of the project was to have the first-grader classes create posters and hang them throughout the school. The posters asked for donations to Heartland, and asked for adoptions. The first-grade classes also went around to each of the other grade levels to explain what they were doing.

Also as part of the project, Eisenhower held a "Crazy Hat Day," in which it cost students $1 to wear a crazy hat at school. That effort pulled in $250, which was donated to the animal shelter.

The donations to the shelter poured in, with several bags of dog food, as well as toys and other items. At least one car load was full of donations, and Dusty Ware from Warehouse BBQ donated $1,500 to the shelter in the name of the two Eisenhower first-grade classes.

"Some people didn't donate items, but they donated money," Carlson said. "The whole thing was to teach compassion. It was great to be able to give it all to Heartland."

The school district as a whole has been involved in a grassroots effort to donate to the animal shelter this year, maybe more so than past years, Heartland president Shelle Harvey said. But she is grateful for what the schools do for the shelter.

"They've challenged the students and the students have met the challenge," Harvey said. "The school district has been great, and they've been awesome. We've tried to get our story out there. Maybe it's out there better now. I can't say enough about anybody really.

"I don't know what's going on, but it's been great."

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury