Students come to the rescue of suffering Australian wildlife

God created the animals – the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the many beloved creatures who walk or crawl on the earth – and God declared them all to be good.

A closely knit group of students at St. Mary Catholic School, Mt. Vernon are doing their part to help save some of God’s creatures affected by the devastating brush fires in Australia.

Students in the third and fifth grades are knitting homemade wildlife nests, joey pouches and blankets for the animals.

The special service project is a way for students to put their Catholic faith into practice.

“We strive to find a way to serve our community every month, and this is taking it a step further by doing something the students are owning and putting back in,” said third grade teacher Brandi Gore. “It’s taking the virtue of compassion that much further and showing how they can spread it.”

It also fits well with the school’s mission to be a Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline school. VBRD schools have two primary goals: to decrease antisocial behaviors and increase faith practices.

Third grader Nomie Rawls said, “I like that it’s showing the virtue of kindness, and that is my virtue I’m working on.”

Her classmate Josie Colle agreed. “It is cool to make nests and blankets, and it helps the animals.”

Gore and her daughter Abigail, a fifth grader at St. Mary, got the idea for the service project while watching news reports which showed devastating images coming out Australia as well as a plea for knitted nests by Australian rescue groups. Abigail asked her mother if they could do something to help the suffering animals.

“I think it’s very important to save the animals in Australia because they are losing their habitat to the fire and because the baby animals are losing their mom and would die without the help of people,” said Abigail.

Gore got together with her daughter’s fifth grade teacher Carla Chesnek and came up with the special service project idea.

Students were excited about the project. “The fifth graders are big animals lovers,” she said. “They’ve seen it in the news and know its happening, so it means a lot to them to find a way to help from so far away.”

Fifth grader Lyla Barnett, said, “When I’m doing this I know I am helping all these animals who need help. I hope it helps and reminds us that you can make a difference.”

But first they had to learn how to knit. Neither Gore nor Chesnek knew how.

“We watched a lot of YouTube videos and figured it out,” Gore said. Then the teachers taught three fifth graders (Abigail Gore, Iylie Harris, Clara Manning) the ropes. These three students are currently teaching the rest of the third and fifth graders how to knit.

“We use a round loom to make the nests, joey pouches and blankets,” Gore said. The three fifth graders had their first nest finished in less than an hour. “Once you get going it’s pretty repetitive,” she said. “They are very quick learners.”

The students will send some of the nests, joey pouches, and blankets to the Animal Rescue Craft Guild in Australia, and some will go to local animal shelters and rescue organizations.

Gore said the nest building fits in well with their other school-wide service projects – like their current project of making fleece lap blankets for local nursing homes — because it is a hands-on project.

“We want it to be hands-on doing for others, rather than just buying something,” said Gore. “We try to keep them involved as much as possible.”

According to news reports, about a billion animals have been affected by the wildfires, with millions likely dead. These include birds, reptiles, and mammals. Almost a third of koalas may have been killed in the fires, and a third of their habitat has been destroyed, CNN reported.