First Graders Learn Empathy With Book Illustration Project

Elementary school educators in Houston, Texas, are responding positively to a book produced by Collegiate School’s Lower School art teacher and her 1st Grade students soon after Hurricane Harvey devastated the city.
The book, based on the actual evacuation of one Houston family, began as a Morning Art project for Holly Smith’s young Cougars. She had heard about the ordeal of two young siblings named Ari and Isla from her aunt, who lives in the area affected by the storm. Mrs. Smith wrote the text for the book and invited her students to contribute illustrations after completing required art class assignments.

The result was Ari and Isla Ride Out the Storm, A True Story from Hurricane Harvey.

“This began as a simple project to reach out to one family impacted by Hurricane Harvey,” Mrs. Smith said. “It was a chance for 1st Graders to use empathy and say, ‘We heard about what happened to you and hope you’re doing okay.’”

Mrs. Smith says that during the project, many of the 1st Graders engaged in lively discussions about hurricanes, floods and evacuations, and shared their own observations, connections and questions.

“As the story and illustrations came together, Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, and then Maria devastated Puerto Rico,” Mrs. Smith said. “Before hurricane season came to a close, California wildfires forced families to flee their homes and communities. ‘Evacuate’ became a commonly understood term, even among young children…. This story speaks to their questions and concerns, with a dose of humor, some closure and an open-ended reference to the ongoing work of recovery.”

Collegiate JK-12th Grade students raised more than $7,500 in September to assist three nonprofit organizations with hurricane relief efforts in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico. Mrs. Smith reached out to the Houston-based program, BakerRipley, and sent a copy of the book to be shared with families that organizations assists. She also provided copies of the book to 40 Houston-area schools and about a dozen individual families. All Collegiate 1st Grade families also received copies.

Educators in the Houston area have expressed gratitude to Mrs. Smith and through their social media channels for Mrs. Smith and her students. One expressed these sentiments:

“What an incredible display of empathy these children in Richmond, Virginia, have for our [students] by writing a story to help so many children heal after Harvey!”
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