As a reading assignment, teacher Laura Proven asked her fourth-grade students at Cary Elementary School to make a positive difference in their communities based on something they read.
She almost got more than she bargained for when a trio of students latched on to the issue of animal shelters.
Horrified to learn that some shelters often euthanize animals, fourth-graders Jordan Bowles, Scarlett Erb and Evelyn Drennan banded together and suggested sending the shelters a letter demanding that they close.
“Jordan got really mad when she heard how many animals they were killing, so she was like, ‘You need to shut down your shelter!’ ” said Scarlett, 9. “It’s like, I’m sorry, but no one messes with cats without messing with me.”
Proven stepped in to suggest they take a softer approach, and then she turned their project into a math lesson.
“I told them it might be a better idea to reward the good shelters instead of threatening the bad ones,” she said.
On Friday, the three students led their class in making blankets for cats who are living at Cat Angels of Cary, which does not euthanize the animals in its care. Next week, they will host a donation drive for Cat Angels to collect cat food, toys and office supplies.
It can be hard to fit practical projects that build social awareness into a tightly regimented elementary school curriculum, Proven said, so she jumped at the opportunity her students presented. She decided to use the blankets as part of a math unit on measurements.
On Friday, Proven brought in squares of fleece with paw-print patterns for each of her 20 students. They cut around the edges of the fleece and knotted the fringe, creating a soft, upturned lip around the edge of the blankets.
The end result is meant to go on the bottom of the cats’ wire cages, making it more comfortable for them to lounge.
Jordan, Scarlett and Evelyn have been friends and classmates for almost two years. But Proven said they came to her independently to say they wanted to do something to help animals, and she suggested they work together.
“They felt like cats get neglected because everyone pays so much attention to dogs, and cats don’t get enough credit,” Proven said. “And the shelter is right nearby. I saw the opportunity to make this project-based learning, so if people can’t afford to bring supplies next week, they can still contribute something.”
The girls recently formed an animal welfare organization called P.S.A. – Project Saving Animals. They made T-shirts to wear as they presented their project to their classmates.
Without much in the way of direction from Proven, the three arranged a meeting with the school’s principal to set up the supply drive and made a video to spread the word.
Principal Rod Stanton said he encourages students to leave him notes in his office mailbox, and he often sets up meetings with them to discuss what’s on their mind. Usually, he said, students want to talk about extra recess or school improvements.
“I always give kids a job to do, and I say once you do that, we’ll meet again,” Stanton said. “After that, I’ll usually never hear about it again. But these girls, right from the beginning, they showed they were persistent.”
The girls said they hope their efforts will inspire their classmates – and also adults.
“Grown-ups, when they’re grown up, they stop caring about a lot of kind things,” Jordan said. “They just only care about themselves, really. I mean, I’m not talking about all grown-ups, of course. But a lot.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan