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Project at Abbotsford school helps students cope with trauma of flooding

Grade 3 class at Upper Sumas Elementary makes Christmas trees and cards for seniors
Caleb Kinvig decorates his tree for his senior match in the Planting Intergenerational Promises program at Upper Sumas Elementary. (Submitted photo)

A program at an Abbotsford school has been a source of healing for students who were impacted by the recent floods, says their teacher.

Debbie Mar, who teaches Grade 3 at Upper Sumas Elementary, said the Planting Intergenerational Promises program has provided purpose for her students while they have been unable to attend their school and they recover from the trauma of the recent events.

The school is one of two in Abbotsford – the other is Barrowtown Elementary – that was heavily damaged when floodwaters coursed across Sumas Prairie starting on Nov. 15.

Both schools require major repairs, while students and staff have been moved to temporary locations at places such as the Abbotsford Arts Addition, W. A. Fraser Middle School, and Se:math First Nation.

Many of them also suffered damage to their homes and properties, and had to be evacuated during the flooding situation.

Mar, who also lives on Sumas Prairie and had to evacuate her home, said the first few days after they were able to reunite involved “a lot of talking and processing.”

“The first week was quite intense because we were just checking to make sure that families were saved, kids were safe,” she said.

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Mar, whose home survived the flooding, said one of her students lost everything and had to be relocated to another school. But her classmates are connecting with her by helping to rebuild the beloved rock collection she lost.

Another student had to be rescued by a helicopter, and others helped the military with the sandbagging in Huntingdon Village.

Mar said the class used music, drawing and writing to help work through some of their feelings around these experiences.

But she said their biggest source of healing has been a program that pairs the kids with seniors in the community.

The Planting Intergenerational Promises program, in partnership with the B.C. Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation and Archway Community Services, began in September.

The first project for the 22 students was creating watercolour paintings of their favourite flower and explaining why it was important to them.

The paintings were delivered to the seniors, along with art supplies. The seniors were then tasked with creating their own artwork to be delivered to their student matches.

Mar said the kids were excited to receive the paintings.

“We would get maybe two a week, and the whole entire class stops, and the child comes to the front and shares their flower. It was so powerful,” she said.

The students’ artwork was turned into greeting cards, and they planned to use the money raised to purchase small Christmas trees for the seniors. But the project was put on hold when the flooding hit.

Being able to move forward with their plan, after they were settled in their temporary space at Fraser Middle School (they’re now at Abbotsford Elementary), “gave the kids real purpose,” Mar said.

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The mini trees were donated by the Saran family, and the kids decorated them with paper chains, bells, lights and words such as “peace,” “love,” “hope,” “support” and “gratitude.”

The students also made cards for the seniors with notes through which many of them addressed their recent experiences.

“I was evacuated twice. I was scared, but I had my family’s love. You are not alone. I send you love. May my tree bring you joy,” wrote Caleb, 8.

Reid, 8, wrote: “My house got flooded. I was saved by a helicopter. I was scared, but I still had hope. I made this tree for you with joy and hope in my heart.”

“I got flooded. I had to leave my house. But I still made a tree for you. It is filled with overflowing joy,” stated Aryan, 8.

Mar said decorating the trees and making the cards “took on such meaning” for the students.

“They just poured their hearts out into these trees,” she said.

Josh Burton, supervisor of Senior Services at Archway Community Services, said the seniors were thrilled to receive the gifts.

“The seniors were surprised and delighted by the thoughtfulness of the students. I think this kind gesture was really welcomed, especially since some people are by themselves through the holiday season,” he said.

The hope is that the entire project culminates at the end of the school year with the students delivering floral bouquets to their matches – in person, if possible.

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Teacher Debbie Mar’s Grade 3 class at Upper Sumas Elementary decorated mini Christmas trees and made cards for seniors in the community. (Submitted photo)
Amira Saran and Reid Pemble decorate their trees for their senior matches in the Planting Intergenerational Promises program at Upper Sumas Elementary. (Submitted photo)
Reid Pemble decorates his tree for his senior match in the Planting Intergenerational Promises program at Upper Sumas Elementary. (Submitted photo)
Esha Braich and Amira Saran display the Christmas trees and cards they made for their seniors matches in the Planting Intergenerational Promises program at Upper Sumas Elementary. (Submitted photo)
Carol and Wayne Anthony display the mini Christmas trees and cards they received from their student matches in Debbie Mar’s Grade 3 class at Upper Sumas Elementary. (Submitted photo)
Frank Laplant displays the mini Christmas tree and card he received from his student match in Debbie Mar’s Grade 3 class at Upper Sumas Elementary. (Submitted photo)

Vikki Hopes

About the Author: Vikki Hopes

I have been a journalist for almost 40 years, and have been at the Abbotsford News since 1991.
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