Empty Bowls at the Paul Cuffee School

This tremendous article highlights all the good that can occur when dedicated, thoughtful, aware teachers combine their skills with their passions to create an authentic assessment that connects students to the community.  Kudos to Kelly Barr for sharing this national project with our community.


 Cuffee puts the spotlight on hunger
 Students learn about global issue, hold fundraiser for Rhode Island Food Bank

     PROVIDENCE — Hunger is not an abstraction at the Paul Cuffee School.    Here, the fourth-grade class puts its money where its mouth is — literally.    Thursday night, dozens of teachers, families and friends sat down to share soup in handmade ceramic bowls, a visceral reminder that 20,000 children are hungry in Rhode Island.    The project is called Empty Bowls, an international phenomenon that has raised millions of dollars for impoverished people. As part of their social studies curriculum, 60 fourth graders created ceramic bowls in vivid primary colors and offbeat shapes.      Thursday night, each bowl was sold for $10 with all of the proceeds going to the Rhode Island Food Bank. The school hopes to break its record of $1,300, which was raised last year.    “It’s a fun, creative way to help people in need,” said 9-year-old Kimberly Nieves.    “Helping people that need to be nourished is good because then you have more people helping people who need it,” said Ariana Aytah, another fourth grader.    Kelly Barr, a fourth-grade teacher, said she heard about the project while she was on sabbatical at a private school in Wyoming. She thought the program would fit nicely with Cuffee’s emphasis on hands-on learning and its mission to provide a larger social context to what goes on in the classroom.    The Empty Bowls project is part of a larger unit on global hunger, where students learned about hunger as a real-life issue, used their creativity to make bowls and incorporated it into a service learning project. The project touched every subject. In math, students figured out   how much soup and bread would be needed to feed an estimated number of guests.    “It’s good for students to see that the world is bigger than they are,” said Crystal Gantz, whose two daughters attend Cuffee.    At each place setting, students left handmade notes. Although the writing was childish, the sentiments were not:    Jeremy Monroy wrote, “Helping other people made   me feel great because we’re helping people who really need it.”    And a fourth grader named Jayden wrote, “Empty Bowls is something that warms your heart and will have you smiling.”    What made the supper poignant is that many of the families at Cuffee are struggling themselves. Two-thirds of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, an   indicator of poverty.    One mother said that she had planned to eliminate her annual donation to the Food Bank this winter because money was tight, but she couldn’t resist buying her daughter’s bowl.    As one fourth grader put it, “My mom and dad used to be poor.”    The school is named after Paul Cuffee, a former slave who lived in Westport, Mass., during the late 18th century. A wealthy sea captain, Cuffee founded a school for children of mixed race after his own children were denied an education. The Cuffee School, which has a maritime theme, honors his commitment to public service for all members of society.    “We weave social justice into every part of the curriculum,” said Julia Karahalis, the school’s director of institutional advancement. “The students learn what it means to create equity in society. They learn what it means for everyone to have enough food.”  lborg@providencejournal.com      (401) 277-7823 

  THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL / RUBEN W. PEREZ    Orlando Comerford, 8, picks out a bowl for his mother, Teresa Comerford, Thursday at the Paul Cuffee School in Providence. Fourth graders made the bowls as part of a unit on hunger.


  THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL / RUBEN W. PEREZ    Dominga Merced has soup with her daughter Lillian Roberts. The bowls were sold as a fundraiser for the R.I. Food Bank.


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