Columbia College fills bags with food, hosts ice cream social for Field Elementary school children


Columbia College has partnered with Field Elementary School for more than two decades. But the kids’ needs have never been as critical.

Columbia College has been partners in education with Field Elementary School since 1987 and sponsors several events and programs for the children annually. It’s a convenient partnership; the school is just up the street from the college on Range Line. Field will close soon and be rebuilt as a facility roughly three times as large as the current one. It’s not yet clear what parts of the partnership will continue.

One such program is the popular pen-pal program, in which about 40 college employees have written letters to the third-graders since last November. Every two weeks, the pen pals either received or sent a letter to give the children real-world practice in writing letters, formatting envelopes and writing in general before the third-graders’ Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment tests.

The state-mandated MAP tests in mathematics, reading and language are considered more a measure of a school’s than an individual student’s performance. Educators use the test data to develop school- or school district-specific instructional strategies and to plan school improvement.

Here are this year’s Columbia College pen pals.

Eww, strawberry!
Perhaps the highlight of this letter exchange was when the pen pals met one another at an ice cream social held in the Dulany Hall cafeteria in mid-March. Columbia College pen pals chatted with their third-grade equivalents about their favorite subjects or anything they didn’t get around to finding out in the letters written over the course of the year. The students brought their adult pen pals homemade cards and one last letter; one letter included a drawing of the CC staffer and the third-grader eating ice cream. The third grader's ice cream had a cherry on top. The staffer's didn’t.

Dmon, the pen pal, sniffed suspiciously at the strawberry ice cream dished out by Ameriserve. He had never had strawberry ice cream before. His CC pen pal persuaded him to put a dab of it on top of safe vanilla. He tried it. Result? Let’s just say he wasn’t a fan. Luckily, there was enough vanilla and chocolate ice cream with peanut, sprinkles and crushed M&Ms toppings for even the pickiest ice cream gourmets.

What’s in the black bag?
The next day, seven students from three different campus clubs packed black drawstring bags weighing 10 pounds each for the Field students. The CC students had stood in front of Schnuck’s supermarket soliciting donations; approached the Aldi grocery store; and solicited donations from the campus and local community. Their efforts netted about $500. The resulting mac and cheese, lasagna, Ramen (a lot of Ramen), canned fruit and veggies, Hamburger Helper and granola bar largesse filled three cars.

Spring break means fun and relaxation for many students, but not Field students. Spring break for some of these students means genuine nutritional deficits because the children go without the breakfast and lunch they normally receive in school - and that’s with a strong economy. The need for this food drive becomes even more critical in sour economic times.

The CC students tried to fill each black bag with somewhat balanced meals, eliciting such questions as: Do I put in ravioli or peanut butter? (Ravioli.) How many cans of veggies - one or two? (Two.) Can I put some more Ramen in there? (Sure.) Still, there was a decided tilt toward kid favorites such as Snack Pack Triples Chocolate Daredevil Pudding, Chef Boyardee mini-ravioli, grape jelly and peanut butter (you know, the kind with the wild stripes) and Campbell’s Tomato Soup.

Field Elementary School has been the college’s partner in education since 1987, and the college also sponsors job shadowing and reading programs, invites the kids to Cougars basketball and donates books. Field Elementary abuts one of the city’s least-developed neighborhoods. Because of the potential chasm between what’s perceived as one of the lower-income elementary schools and one of the wealthier colleges in the area, the Columbia College/Field Elementary School partnership seeks to erase that difference with events like this.

Even if the strawberry ice cream was not a hit with all.