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These Dunning Middle Schoolers Raised $2,000 For Ukrainian Relief Efforts — And They’re Not Done

Students at Dever Elementary have made bracelets, stuffed animals and other items to sell for a fundraiser and to gift to Ukrainian families in their community and abroad.

Middle school students at Dever Elementary School made blue and yellow bracelets, pins and crocheted stuffies for Ukrainian families on the Northwest Side. More will me added into care packages for Ukrainian families fleeing the war.
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DUNNING — When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, eighth-graders at Dever Elementary School wanted to help.

They got to work, making blue and yellow bracelets, pins and stuffed animals that were sold to the school community. A Hat Day fundraiser — where students who brought $1 to school could wear a hat inside for the day — collected hundreds of dollars. Younger students also made paper flags to contribute.

Students from Mandy Guzman’s social studies class have raised $2,000 for the International Rescue Committee’s charity helping families displaced by the war — and they plan to keep going.

“I have a girl who taught others how to crochet,” Guzman said. “They are crocheting yellow and blue stuffies for the Ukrainian families that go to Dever. These kids are so great.”

Credit: Jonathan Estrada
Eighth grade students Zero Muro, Paul Contreras, Aniyah Gonzalez and Sophie Gillespie pose for a photo at Dever Elementary School, 3436 N. Osceola Ave. on March 1, 2022.

Students also wrote letters and sent gifts to the school’s Ukrainian families to let them know they are supported and listened to during these emotional weeks, Guzman said.

The eighth-grade students have also taught their peers in lower grades about the history of Ukraine and what led to the war, Guzman said. Next, they plan to collect clothing, make care packages and crochet more stuffed animals to send to Ukrainian families, said Sophie Gillespie, one of Guzman’s students.

“Throughout the year, we have been learning about activism and how people can make the community better,” Gillespie said. “It’s nice to see that all in action and to actually help.”

Classmates Aniyah Gonzalez and Paul Contreras said fundraising has been rewarding and fulfilling, broadening their understanding of history.

“Before, we used to look at social studies as something boring, but now that it’s turned into activism. It has shown us how activism works and helps others,” Gonzalez said. “It gives us a new perspective.”

Contreras said it was important to show support for his Ukrainian classmates through letters and donations and get the entire school community involved.

“This has an effect on a lot of us, especially Ukrainians who go to this school,” Contreras said. “It’s showing we support them.”

Zero Muro, an eighth-grader who enjoys graphic design, created Ukrainian-themed T-shirts that will be sold to support the cause. Knowing how much his classmates raised has given him more confidence in speaking up for what is right, he said.

“We are making a difference,” Muro said. “Sometimes people don’t listen to us because we are kids, but this gives us a better reputation.”

That energy has spread past the walls of the school at 3436 N. Osceola Ave., which has about 20 Ukrainian students, Dever Principal Jason Major said. The older students also partnered with younger children to make art for a Ukrainian tribute that hangs at the entrance of the Dunning Library branch, 7455 W. Cornelia Ave.

“This is the most grassroots effort I have ever seen,” Major said. “We have younger teachers who are doing things in pockets, but then we just scaled it up and let our middle-school kids run with it.”

Credit: Provided
Three middle school students partnered with a third grade class at Dever to make art for a Ukrainian tribute that hangs at the Dunning Library branch entrance, 7455 W. Cornelia Ave.

Students also will meet with local politicians to broaden their outreach and learn about more ways they can contribute, teachers said. Last week, they took a class in photojournalism to gain skills on how to better document and share their work.

Students hope to keep fundraising for Ukraine and engaging with the local community to boost their activism. Guzman said watching her students work together while making a difference in the local community is “the best thing a teacher could ask for.”

“This is one of the greatest things I’ve ever been a part of as a teacher,” Guzman said. “Me being able to [delegate] and then watch them take over and get it done without me having to help them and empower each other is just the most beautiful thing that a teacher could ever witness.”

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