Fourth-graders at Fair Haven Grade School

Fourth-graders at Fair Haven Grade School show off the maple candy care packages they made in solidarity with children in Ukraine.

Slate Valley students are sending a sweet message to children in Ukraine.

Recently, students across the district have been making care packages containing maple candy to send children living in the war-torn eastern European country.

The idea for the so-called “Maple Mission” started in teacher Jenna Laslocky’s fourth-grade class at Orwell Village School when students began drawing Ukrainian flags to hang on the classroom door as a show of solidarity.

Laslocky reached out to a fellow teacher in Prague in the Czech Republic to see how else they could help. The teacher gave Laslocky the idea to send candy.

“It makes such good sense, child to child, to think about something sweet,” she said.

The maple theme seemed appropriate, Laslocky said, since it was the tail end of maple sugar season in Vermont.

Students also drew inspiration from the book “The Beatryce Prophecy” by Kate DiCamillo. In the book, one of the characters carries maple candy in his pocket for comfort and sustenance.

Orwell students began collecting maple candy. They also received two gallons of maple syrup, which Trade Winds Farm in Shoreham has offered to make into candy.

The effort soon spread to other schools in the district, like Fair Haven Grade School, where students have assembled three-dozen individual care packages bound for students in Ukraine.

Kristen Whitman, who teaches fourth grade at Fair Haven, said the project was a developmentally appropriate way to talk about the war with students and help them process their feelings about it.

For more than a week, students across the district have collected maple candy and made packages, which also include a note from DiCamillo that was translated into Ukrainian by a Middlebury College student.

The message reads:

“When I was a kid, I would sometimes receive the special treat of candy made from maple sugar. I liked to let the candy dissolve slowly in my mouth. It made me feel warm inside — safe, loved. That is why we sent this candy to you. We want you to feel that magic warmth, too. We want you to feel safe. We want you to know you are loved”

Laslocky said she connected with a school in Poland that was able to deliver the packages to the Ukrainian border where they will be distributed to students inside the country. The first packages shipped during the weekend, she said.

“It’s a modest gesture,” she said, noting that small gestures sometimes grow into bigger things.

Fair Haven Grade School student Abbygaile Gero praised her peers at Orwell for coming up with the idea, adding she was happy to participate in the project.

“I think that when the kids (in Ukraine) get them in a few days, they’ll be really happy,” she said.

Gero’s classmate Bayne Robinson said he has been impressed by people’s generosity.

“I was surprised that there were so many maple candies. Some people brought in giant bags, just filled,” he said.

As part of the project, participating classes visited Fair Haven Union High School’s horticulture class last week, where they got a chance to learn more about the science of maple sugaring.

Science teacher Guy Merolle said the visit was also an opportunity to educate younger students about a variety of horticulture-related things.

High schoolers worked directly with fourth-graders in the greenhouse, where they planted sunflowers together.

“Having them come (Thursday) was almost magical — the connection with those fourth-graders and my students,” he said. “The power of that learning experience for all people involved, I think, was great.”

Junior Samantha Bailey said she enjoyed working with the younger students and was happy to help them do something nice for Ukrainian children.

She said her class donated more than a quart of maple syrup it harvested this spring from the high school’s sugar bush.

“It was just a really sweet gesture to try and bring smiles to the kids’ faces,” she said.

jim.sabataso

@rutlandherald.com

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