Local students assist Harvey victims
TCHS Brandywine students come together to help students in Texas impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
The auditorium at Technical College High School (TCHS) Brandywine Campus was packed with hundreds of students. While many high school assemblies compete with students talking or pulling out their phones, this presentation was noticeably different. According to Health Career Pathways instructor Leslie Forest, “it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. No one was talking, there were no phones out. We knew right away we had the undivided attention of 952 students.”
The presentation that had captured their attention centered on the impact Hurricane Harvey had on Houston, Texas. Specifically, the presentation focused on the effect the hurricane had on the students of the Dr. Kirk Lewis Career & Technical High School (CTHS) in Houston. While the school, which is a career & technical education center like TCHS Brandywine, was not severely affected by the hurricane, nearly 200 students and faculty lost everything in the aftermath of the storm.
TCHS staff had developed a campaign called “Making Change,” with the goal of creating 197 backpacks filled with school supplies for career & technical students at Dr. Kirk Lewis CTHS impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
“When these students were told they had a short time to evacuate, they needed to take the most important things in the world with them. Given those circumstances, it’s not surprising to think they wouldn’t have been able to take their school supplies. With so many of these students displaced we felt that this is something we could provide that would bring some normalcy back into their lives,” said Forest.
TCHS students were given the opportunity to sponsor a student in this effort. TCHS students received the first name of their sponsored student and will be responsible for purchasing a new backpack and supplies to fill it. Students also have the opportunity to donate their spare change, which will be used to purchase additional supplies and help towards the cost of shipping the backpacks. Each student who donates to the campaign will have his or her name put on a star that will be placed on a large banner in the cafeteria. The banner is being donated by Denron Signs in Thorndale and is designed to resemble the Texas state flag.
The campaign will last for two weeks. At its conclusion, the two schools are planning to have a simultaneous virtual assembly so that students, staff and administrators can meet one another and connect.
Deborah Watson, school to career specialist at TCHS Brandywine, noted that the idea for “Making Change” stemmed from the school’s Big Team. The Big Team is the Student Assistance Program for TCHS Brandywine, which is responsible for creating a secure and drug-free environment and promoting mental health wellness. “Our Big Team was meeting and we began to discuss that we had students who had approached us about wanting to help in light of the many recent natural disasters. So, we began brainstorming and came up with the idea of looking to see if we could help career & technical students who were impacted by Hurricane Harvey,” said Watson.
Frank McKnight, principal of TCHS Brandywine, believes that this initiative
really reflects the strong bond that students in career & technical education share. “What amazes me about the ‘Making Change’ project is how much the students and staff have really taken this idea and run with it. In my professional experience, I have always seen that students in career & technical education share a special bond,” said McKnight.
“These students have never met their counterparts in Texas. Yet, our students saw themselves in these students and are working hard to help them because they share that special bond of shared interests and educational pursuits. We launched this project on Friday and we already have supplies and donations flooding in from students who feel this bond with people living across the country whom they’ve never met,” said McKnight.
The staff at TCHS Brandywine view “Making Change” as not just an opportunity to help those in need, but also as a learning opportunity for their students. James Fusco, Marketing & Financial Services instructor, sees this as an important lesson in how to prepare his students for the world beyond TCHS. “I always hear my students talk about all of the problems in the world and how it can be overwhelming to figure out how to even begin addressing them. I think this project is important because it is an opportunity to solve a problem for one student at a time by restoring a sense of normalcy to their day to day lives,” said Fusco.
Troy Campbell, Commercial & Graphic Arts instructor, sees this as a great way to emphasize the importance of community to his students. “Any student who decides to pursue career & technical education realizes that it is a big decision. I think this project really resonated with my students because they realized even though these students are different from them, they share this common bond of career & technical education. Community is extremely important, but I think this helps them realize that their community isn’t limited by geography. I think the connection makes it more real for them,” said Campbell.
While the backpacks filled with school supplies are the main focus of this campaign, TCHS Brandywine has sought out other ways to help out. After talking with administrators at Dr. Kirk Lewis CTHS, TCHS Brandywine administrators were informed that there was a shortage of dust masks. So, TCHS is donating 600 dust masks to Dr. Kirk Lewis CTHS.
In addition, the Health Career Pathways instructor is donating scrubs to help with the needs of their health professional programs. TCHS faculty is even raising money to help the six instructors at Dr. Lewis CTHS who also lost everything in the hurricane.
However, TCHS Brandywine is not alone is this campaign. The Chester County Intermediate Unit is making a financial donation to contribute towards the cost of shipping the backpacks. The Child and Career Development Center (CCDC) is also helping by donating the proceeds of its own hurricane fundraiser to help with securing supplies and assisting with the cost of shipping.
“I need to give so much credit to both my staff and the students here for their passion and energy with this project. In a short amount of time they have stepped up to help their fellow students and educators who have lost so much,” said McKnight.
“We all have so many things that connect us in ways we don’t always think about. In this case, what connects these students to their counterparts in Texas is that they are pursuing the same kind of careers and programs. And those connections are so much greater than any differences they may have,” said McKnight.
The “Making Change” campaign will last until October 13. Anyone interested in making a financial contribution towards the cost of shipping or securing school supplies should email Deborah Watson at email@example.com or call the main office at 484-5935100 for more information.