By Bonny Van
The Catholic Commentator
“Make Baton Rouge a better place!” 20 fifth-graders shouted in unison at St. Francis Xavier School in Baton Rouge.
Fifth-grade students at St. Francis Xavier School in Baton Rouge look over their poster depicting ideas to “Make Baton Rouge a Better Place.” All 20 students say they worked as a team to create the poster and made sure everyone’s idea was considered during the process. The students are Christin Carroll, Denz’ya Evans, Ronnie Finley, Kenadie Franklin, Kaci Hamilton, Tyrique Harris, Kacey Joseph, Noah Landry, Marcus Mack, Dreamer Patterson, Jeffery Perry, Khai Smith, K’Lani Smith, Jeydon Sparrow, Treylon Thompson, Jayleigh Turner, Kendrick Wallace, Mikalen Washington, Brandon Williams Jr. and Cha’Kari Williams. Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator
It was in the spirit of that one voice the group was able to put together a poster showing they know, care and are concerned about their community. Suggestions range from stopping violence and racism to sharing with and respecting each other.
The poster project, which focused on ways to improve the state’s capital city, was the idea of principal Paula Fabre. She said the goal was to get students to take a closer look at their community and think “in terms of how they can be a good citizen both now and in the future and how they interact with others.
“I feel (this project is) important because it allows our students to practice, with their families and in their communities, the Catholic values that we share with them every day and that (St. Francis pastor) Father (Edward Chiffriller SSJ) shares with them at weekly Mass,” said Fabre. “It gives them an opportunity to apply what we’re teaching them about how to function in society without violence.”
Students began work on the project in September and learned many important lessons along the way, the first being how to work together as a team. Each idea for the poster, from the title to the issues to the colors and design, was presented for a vote among the 20-strong group. So, what was the first thing they worked on?
“The title,” said everyone.
“That’s how it went,” said Marsha Perkins, librarian and project coordinator. “We decided there was not going to be a king ruling over everybody, it was going to be a democracy. So every voice matters. Every opinion matters.”
The poster depicts each of the children holding a sign calling for societal action to make Baton Rouge a better place. Among the slogans were Stop the Killing; Stop Hatred; Stop Racism; Stop Child Abuse; and Stop Kidnapping. Scattered among the placards were also words for hope such as Pray for Baton Rouge; Unity; and May Baton Rouge Have Peace. Student Ronnie Finley came up with the idea to use Baton Rouge as an acronym for the positive aspects of the city: Better, Amazing, Together, Official, Nice, Respect, Opportunity, Unity, Great and Everyone.
The fifth-graders worked on the poster for months, finishing it in February. The experience offered lessons they never thought about before but plan to take forward with them as they take a bolder, stronger look at the community in which they live and how they can take action to make it a better place.
“We learned how to work together and solve problems,” said student Kacey Joseph.
“We learned how to respect others and to respect others’ opinions,” said Jeydon Sparrow.
“We learned how every voice matters,” said Mikalen Washington.
Perkins said she was taken aback by the ideas the poster generated. She said it was indicative of “how aware they were to community and societal problems.” But, she was “saddened that they knew what was going on.”
“I wish it could be peace and love but it’s not,” Perkins said. “But, when you read this and you’re feeling a certain kind of way, you can see where these students can kind of uplift your spirit and let you know that everything is going to be alright because this is our future standing before us. It kind of made me hopeful.”
Attached to the top of the poster are three versions of the state of Louisiana with Baton Rouge marked, an indication of the importance of the capital city to the rest of the state.
“I drew a picture of the state because I thought it would be better to pinpoint Baton Rouge and start where we should make Baton Rouge a better place,” said Kaci Hamilton.
Another attached sheet, at the bottom of the poster, says No Guns. The idea, a last minute suggestion from student Brandon Williams Jr., was voted on and approved.
“I think we should put (the poster) somewhere special where everybody could see it,” said Williams.
“I think we should put it in a museum in Baton Rouge so everybody could see it,” said Treylon Thompson.
“It should be hung somewhere to let people know that in communities such as this, we’re not all bad people, you know – we’re not all about ‘let’s pick up a gun and settle the problem,’ ” agreed Perkins. “These children are letting you know, ‘No, we’re not even about that. We want the abuse to stop. We want love. We want peace.’ ”
Perkins said she hopes that others can see “that children are concerned about what’s going on.” And, she hopes that it does create some talking points and action.
“Let’s start some dialogue and let’s do something about it and let’s make Baton Rouge a better place to live,” said Perkins.
Fabre summed up the project with one thought, “We’re going to have to change society, one child at a time.”