Students made warm fleece blankets for a homeless shelter and participated in "poverty simulations" to learn more about how to end hunger and homelessness as part of Habitat Day at Upper Arlington's Barrington Elementary School.

Students made warm fleece blankets for a homeless shelter and participated in "poverty simulations" to learn more about how to end hunger and homelessness as part of Habitat Day at Upper Arlington's Barrington Elementary School.

Teacher Katie Benton said the 300 students in Barrington's Informal Progressive program were "engaged and invested" during the daylong event on Nov. 16.

The day also recognized National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Benton said.

"The students are learning so much, sharing their new knowledge in a variety of ways and they are working hard to make their community and world a better place," she said.

She said Barrington's service learning efforts this school year focus on three questions: What are the needs of those in our community? What do we do to make sure the needs of all people are met? How can we end hunger and homelessness in our community?

"All ... Informal Progressive students took a field trip to the YWCA Family Center in September to learn about the services this homeless shelter offers," she said. "Students then discussed wants and needs, such as what a home needs, the ways a family might lose their home, what a community needs and how to be a good citizen and community member."

During Habitat Day, students worked in groups to make fleece blankets to donate to a shelter and created craft kits for children at the YWCA Family Center.

Benton said one of the craft kits included materials with which children can make a snowman ornament, using a wide Popsicle stick, ribbon, felt, wiggle eyes, glue and buttons or gems.

The students also collected school supplies and made cards for students in a New York City school affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Benton said the older grades participated in "poverty simulations."

"The children were given different amounts of play money and a calculator," she said. "They were told about expenses they would incur, such as rent, groceries, daycare and electricity, and they needed to pay their bills at the bank, with volunteers and teachers serving as bankers."

She said the students quickly realized there were tough choices when the money ran out.

"Will that student spend the money on food or electricity or rent when there isn't enough left to go around? And what are the consequences for each choice?" she said. "How does experiencing these things feel? Group discussions follow the simulation and the reality of families in poverty is illustrated."

In a "hunger workshop," students were given index cards, four blue and one red, demonstrating that one in five people go hungry every day.

"Kids learned that 23 percent of those going hungry in our nation are children," Benton said. "Some of these children live only minutes from our neighborhoods. Depending on the color of the card, the student is given a snack."

Benton said students with blue cards could select from Cheerios, M&Ms, raisins and peanuts in a small paper cup and could take as much as they wanted. Students with red cards were invited to the food table but only allowed to choose Cheerios and could only fill their cups halfway.

She said students were asked, "How does this feel?" and "What can those with more food do to support the child with less?"

Benton said according to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 26.3 million children were living below the poverty line in 2010, which is 22 percent of all children, or one out of every five in the United States.

"Students with blue cards were then told they can share food with someone with a red card," she said. "They shared their reactions and reflections in small groups and then with the larger group."

The Informal Progressive program consists of 300 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, or about one-third of the student population at Barrington, which is a school of choice, Benton said.

She said there are 10 foundational principles of progressive education, including having teachers structure experiences "that actively engage the child in producing rather than solely consuming knowledge," integrating the arts into the curriculum, stressing social consciousness by encouraging students to confront complex issues in society and "guided child-choice and decision-making."

"We view our school as a center for teaching and learning for all ages," she said.

Barrington students have participated in Habitat Day for the past five years, with themes such as "How do we preserve tomorrow today?" and "What are natural environments and habitats?"

"Each year, we select a focus with essential questions and aim to make this event and the yearlong theme relevant and meaningful," Benton said. "This year's service learning experience allows us to have students be problem-solvers and deal with important issues in an authentic and meaningful way."

She said each class will continue to provide for people who are hungry and homeless by collecting toiletries and books for children at the shelter, or even cooking and serving meals for homeless families at the shelter.