A group of Heritage Elementary School students recently gained insights into a different culture and how a natural disaster depleted people's resources through a project that raised money and collected school supplies for peers in Puerto Rico.

On March 19, Amy Palmer's first-grade class at Heritage culminated a collection drive to aid Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, by donating more than $1,800 to its eight schools.

They also shipped more than 3,000 pounds of books, writing utensils, backpacks, hand sanitizer, tissues, notepads and more.

Palmer's project -- dubbed Pickerington for Puerto Rico: Help Us Help Kids -- was meant to support students, many of whose homes and schools were wiped out or severely damaged by Hurricane Maria last September.

It also was designed to open young minds to ideas beyond community service.

"Students were able to make real-life connections to things like dependence on environments for resources, supply and demand, wants and needs, solar energy, geography, different cultures and weather," Palmer said.

"We also were able to make connections to cause-and-effect relationships, problems and solutions, public speaking and persuasive speech.

"The kids have really taken ownership of this project," she said.

"They loved being able to help Puerto Rico. They also really enjoyed seeing how far their message spread. They also have taken the sentiment that anyone can make a difference, no matter how young."

Through the project, Palmer was able to connect to Yasmil Jaskille, an attorney in Hormigueros helping to assist schools and rebuild the city of about 17,000 people in Puerto Rico's western region.

Since last November, the folks at Heritage have communicated with him through instant messaging and email to learn more about Puerto Rico and the hurricane's aftermath.

Through the Partnerships Make a Difference organization, Palmer also connected with a seventh-grade class at Jones Middle School, which inspired the Upper Arlington students to launch their own drive to assist Hormigueros schools.

"We will be Skyping with (Jones students) to talk back and forth about our experiences with the project," Palmer said.

The Jones students still are in the process of raising money and collecting supplies for their campaign.

During a March 29 video call between those students and Jaskille, he said the Hurricane Maria gusts of up to 200 mph devastated all regions of the island, destroying property and natural resources.

He said about 300,000 people left the island in the wake of the storm, and many who remain are struggling to regain basic necessities of water, shelter and electricity.

"It hit everyone," Jaskille said. "It didn't matter what geographic location it was and it didn't matter if your house was big or small.

"For right now, there are people here that their homes are destroyed. There are still people who have no water. There are still folks who have no power."

Given circumstances, Jaskille said assistance being provided by students from Ohio is much needed and appreciated.

"The few resources the government has are going to build roads and remove debris, and the schools are the ones that are suffering," he said.

"These (donations) are all little things, but it actually goes a long way in helping people in need."

Palmer called the work of her 26 first-graders "a huge success."

She said she hopes it will build a strong foundation for learning and growth throughout their lives.

"I think my students will be able to look back on first grade and remember that even though they were little kids, they made a huge difference," Palmer said.

"It's my hope that they carry that ideal with them as they grow up, and will continue to make big differences in the world.

"The intrinsic motivation they had to help others, and to see the sheer excitement on their faces when they saw how much we collected, was truly heartwarming and inspirational," she said.

"I am hoping that, while we can never replace all that was lost in the devastating hurricanes, we are able to help them rebuild, even if it is in just a small way."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate