By Johnny Jackson
The small strips of red construction paper, looped and linked together in a chain, represented the school's support of relief efforts underway in disaster-stricken Japan.
The completed chain now hangs in the lobby of East Lake Elementary School in McDonough. It is the work of young students like first-graders Reed Stansell and Tomas Maldonado.
The students wrote brief messages of encouragement on those paper strips, said first-grade teacher Lynn Hudgins. One message read "we are praying for you," and another simply read "hope."
"It's just a good way for the children to express what they're thinking," said Hudgins, who explained the messages and the links in the red chain, together, are symbolic gestures to the Japanese people.
"Red shows love and compassion," she said. "And the links demonstrate where we're all connected."
Hudgins spearheaded the project to create the piece of art now displayed in the lobby of the elementary school. The idea, she said, was to incorporate age-appropriate lessons from the natural disasters on March 11, while showing support for those affected by the estimated 9.0 magnitude earthquake, and subsequent tsunami that ravaged Japan.
Hudgins said she was able to infuse some of what her first-grade students see in the news, with the land forms science unit they are studying in school.
"We took extra time [Wednesday] to explain, as gently as we could, about why a tsunami happens," said Hudgins.
Hudgins's husband, Andy, has family in Japan. His sister, Susan Moore, is also a kindergarten teacher at East Lake. And their mother's family lives in Sendai, Japan, near the epicenter of the earthquake.
"It's been difficult, because there's a language barrier," said Moore. "But they are all OK, and in their own home. The only problem they are having is with food and water."
Moore said members of her family were able to make contact with their family in Japan almost immediately, the day of the earthquake and tsunami.
"My brother made contact through e-mail, and another brother made contact by telephone," Moore said.
"Everybody is safe, that we've heard of," interjected Hudgins.
Moore acknowledged that younger students at the school have a different understanding of the disaster than their older peers, but have expressed a sincere concern for victims in Japan.
"They understand that its bad, and they want to help," said Moore.
School administrators are considering future fund-raising efforts to help provide for those impacted by the earthquake and tsunami.
"The big thing now is to show a sign solidarity and support," said Virgil Cole, principal of East Lake. "I'm proud of them."