Acting on their own plan to help the stray cats in their neighbourhood, Grade 1 students at Verdun Elementary discovered that even very young children can make a big impact on their community.
“The Caring for Cats” entrepreneurial project undertaken last year by Christine Krahulec’s two grade 1 classes at Verdun Elementary School grew out of an in-class discussion about neighbourhood buildings. (That was shortly after visitors from the Canadian Centre for Architecture had done a workshop with the students on the ABC’s of Architecture.) But as the conversation twisted and turned, the children found themselves wondering about the many stray cats in their area and what they could do to help them.
Their research put them in touch with individuals from the SPCA and PetitsPawz, a local cat shelter that runs a trap, neuter and release program for feral cats that can’t be domesticated. The SPCA’s Catherine Mann and colleague Sue Horan of Humane Society International even spent an afternoon with the children teaching them to build outdoor cat shelters from Styrofoam.
Students did the legwork
Before long, Christine’s students decided to organize a cat-food drive within the school. “They did all the legwork,” she says. “They made announcements over the PA system and went class to class to solicit donations.” The children also held a bake sale in support of their feline cause.
At a “Cat Gala” held in the school last April, the young entrepreneurs presented the SPCA and PetitsPawz with the cat shelters they had built, along with their donations of food, supplies and money. They invited everyone who had participated in the project including parents, school board representatives, a city councillor, students from other grades and their community partners. In addition to cat-related artwork, the students displayed the Habitat 67-inspired model cat condo they had conceived, using toilet paper rolls, tissue boxes and what they had learned about architecture.
As the various activities unfolded and Christine realized that “the essence of the project was students identifying a need in the community and finding a solution,” she submitted it to the Québec Entrepreneurship Contest. (They were winners at the local level.)
“Everything was a teachable moment.”
Christine continues to be amazed at how “committed and on task” her students remained through each step of the project. “I mean it started just before Christmas and ended in June!”
“Caring for Cats” allowed her to cover her curriculum in a way that “motivated the unmotivated—it woke them up as they realized: ‘I can do something. I built a cat shelter and helped lots and lots of cats!’ ” She adds that mid-range students became even more motivated because their peers were motivated, and that students who already felt capable and engaged emerged as leaders. “It involved a lot of oral communication, reading, writing and art, which are the core areas I evaluate in Cycle One,” says Christine. “Each mini spin-off—cat-shelter building, bake sales, cat-food drive, condo building and cat gala––dealt with one or all of these competencies. It took very little engineering on my part. Everything was a teachable moment.”