Ozone Park middle school students work to help refugee children torn from their homes because of war

tara and kids
Photos courtesy of Lisa Lee

As the Syrian refugee crisis continues to be a polarizing topic in American politics, one Ozone Park school educated its students on how children are affected when they are forced to leave their homes because of war.

St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy recently held a design thinking workshop to teach students about the emotional impact suffered by child refugees, and ways to help cope with those impacts during an awareness raising event.

Case.by.Case — an educational company that creates interactive learning experiences and social innovation programs for students — led the workshop for nearly 90 St. Elizabeth students in grades six through eight.

The students were divided into teams of six and asked to design activities that they believe would help refugee children deal with the emotional challenges of having to leave their home. Lisa Lee, founder of Case.by.Case, led the workshop by asking students to draw from their own personal experiences in order to get the students to relate to and empathize with refugee children, all while coming up with ideas and activities any child can engage in to help alleviate the emotional distress for refugee children.

“I created programs like this because as an educator, I have to engage youth in grappling with real-world problems or I forfeit the right to teach them anything else,” Lee said.

Through the workshop exercises, students came up with ideas such as welcoming or befriending other refugee children, intervening when children witness bullying, or playing sports to build community, as ways to help refugee children.

 “It was interesting to see how Tara had made a connection with the Syrian people and then brought their stories to us,” said Sarah Paliotta, of the eighth grade.
Rebecka Batista, of the eighth grade, added that the workshop “gives us an understanding of how other people in the world live.”

In addition to the workshop, St. Elizabeth raised just over $500 for Art of Hope, a nonprofit, non-political, non-religious, 501(c)3 NGO which helps address the psychological needs, trauma and mental health challenges of the Syrian refugee population through art therapy, vocational training and capacity-building activities.

The funds raised by the school will go to support children currently living in Beirut, Lebanon, who were displaced by the Syrian war.

Tara Kangarlou, founder of Art of Hope, and international journalist, will also consider using the ideas the St. Elizabeth students came up with during their workshop in future Art of Hope programming, so their ideas can actually make a difference in someone’s life.

“When you get to spend time with children and teenagers, and get to hear their stories, their concerns and what they care about, you soon realize that kids are the same no matter where they come from,” Kangarlou said. She added that this allows you to realize that “despite being refugees or New Yorkers, they all want the same things in life.”

The administration at St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy were happy to see their students’ awareness of world issues grow.

“Both Mr. Ferguson and I believe that it is very important to raise our students’ awareness of the plight of people who are suffering throughout the world and to work to build empathy in our students,” said Jeanne Shannon, vice principal at St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy. “Among the principles of Catholic social justice teachings are care for God’s creations and the dignity of the human person. By highlighting the stories of the Syrian children who have been a witness to war and who have been driven from their homes, we hope that our students will recognize that while their lives are very different from children Tara highlighted, they have much in common with the Syrian refugee children — the desire to be happy, to be educated, to have a home to go to, etc. We hope that raised awareness will spur our students to action.”

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