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Sunflower first-graders design unique jewelry for auction to benefit injured, orphaned wildlife

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First-graders in Jessica Brown’s class at Sunflower Elementary have named the muses that inspired the colorful jewelry they’ve crafted. Now it’s time for the public to place bids.

Brown and her students have partnered with Muse Clay Designs in an economics service-learning project to benefit Operation Wildlife. It’s part of the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) college- and career-readiness curriculum in place at all six of the district’s secondary schools and four of its elementaries — Hillcrest, Cordley, Schwegler and Sunflower.

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A YouTube video features four of the young artist-entrepreneurs, who enthusiastically “use college words” to explain the project’s steps: learning how to launch and run a business, creating and marketing a product through a website, and donating the proceeds to a local community organization.

“Well, after researching and taking notes, we chose Operation Wildlife … They save cute animals,” the kids explain.

Referring to themselves as activists and AVID scholars in the video, the youth close it out declaring, “Together we can make a difference!”

Each piece marketed with help from Laura Roberson, of Muse Clay Designs, the unique wearable art is displayed on the auction website individually with the artist’s name, their inspiration and the starting price. Clicking on the photo allows bidders access to design notes, sketches and bidding. Customers can choose from rings, necklaces and earrings.

Some of the polymer clay pieces were inspired by elements, including light, water, sparkle and fire; others by varied influences, such as smiles, Minecraft, recess, dinosaurs and anime.

One artist, Zayne, credits “love of plants” as the muse behind a rainbow-colored pendant. And watermelons and mansions moved Cosmo.

Melissa Blevins, Sunflower Elementary principal, models a necklace. (Contributed/Jessica Brown)
Mena Hill, learning coach, models earrings. (Contributed/Jessica Brown)
Mena Hill, learning coach, models earrings. (Contributed/Jessica Brown)

Roberson said in an email it was fun watching students choose clay, paint and colors that inspired them.

“They had great questions through the creating process and learned that sometimes starting with an idea in mind can end up nothing like the original idea, but sometimes it’s even better!”

Brown, an educator and author, said she tried to create a project that melded the school’s mission — to engage, prepare and empower students — with the AVID concept of career exposure and her desire to help students experience supporting others and giving back.

“I work to foster the ideals of a classroom community and acts of service within our classroom to feel connected, and I wanted to extend that beyond the walls of the classroom,” Brown said via email.

Sunflower first-graders’ jewelry (Contributed/Jessica Brown)
Sunflower first-graders’ jewelry (Contributed/Jessica Brown)

Brown asked her Facebook friends for recommendations of four community organizations that might benefit from a collaboration. Her students took notes every day, noted key information and identified common themes. Then a class vote selected Operation Wildlife as the winner.

After the auction closes, Brown’s classroom expects a visit from a feathered ambassador to receive their donation. A May 3 post on Operation Wildlife’s Facebook page showed the organization’s activity picks up in the spring, receiving about 50 phone calls a day. At the time, the nonprofit was supporting 112 baby opossums, four great horned owls, an osprey, three ornate box turtles and seven groundhogs, among dozens of other critters.

Brown said students utilized and honed throughout the process their AVID WICOR skills – writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and reading.

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She said the biggest lessons for students were confidence, pride, and the realization that even those who receive support from local organizations can still find ways to give back to one’s community. The challenges were unique to each child.

Brown said she, too, learned a lot in the process and realized some of her own students’ hidden talents. Her favorite lesson, though, was learning that her students “did not think of making things with their hands as a career until we did it together as a class family and they met someone who did that for a living.”

“We need to be able to find the connections, ideas, ties and support to bring the career exposure from people actually out in the field of diverse working platforms there are out there and allow them to be the teachers. It has truly given me a spark to run with.”

The first-graders’ online auction closes at 5 p.m. Friday, May 13.

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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