Munger Mountain students make cards for Ukraine

JACKSON — On Monday morning, Jodeen Tebay wasn’t exactly sure how she was going to explain the war in Ukraine to her first-grade class.

But it turned out, she didn’t have to. They already knew.

When Tebay spun a globe to Ukraine and told her students that the day’s guest, movement teacher Karen Hogan, would be traveling there to help kids “just like you, all the way across the world,” one student piped up with an immediate rebuttal.

“That’s getting invaded, though,” Julian Levenson said.

“You know about that?” Tebay asked.

“Yeah!” they all replied.

“Russia wants to take over Ukraine,” one student explained. “It wants more space, and it’s already the biggest thing in the world.”

Another student added, “They don’t need any more space.”

Tebay’s was one of several classrooms at Munger Mountain Elementary School that made cards to support children who fled Ukraine as Russian troops invaded. 

The thoughtful letters and colorful drawings will be scanned and made into non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, to raise funds for refugee families. Then Hogan will hand deliver the originals to Ukrainian refugees when she travels to Poland this weekend.

She is hoping impromptu movement classes will offer children and their mothers respite from the throes of resettlement.

“I don’t want to come off as naive thinking that the kids are going to want to dance,” Hogan told the News&Guide previously. “But if I could bring them a spark of joy, that’s the goal.”

Hogan is traveling with Global Volunteers and the American non profit NotMeButWe, which is operating emergency day care camps in Poland. The idea for the NFT cards came from the nonprofit’s fundraising platform, Kid Art Charity, which has helped organize similar efforts in Carlsbad, California.

On Monday, Thatcher Grimberg pulled Hogan aside to ask her how many kids were in need. 

“Two million,” she replied.

Instead of being discouraged, the stalwart first grader said he could make cards for everyone if he had more time.

“If I had two days, I would work nonstop; no meals and no sleep,” he said. “On the third day I’d be done.”

In his 30 minutes of allotted time, Thatcher managed three vibrant posters. Around the Ukrainian word for peace he drew a peace symbol and the Ukrainian flag. Other students added the American flag or the bison-silhouetted Wyoming flag in a show of solidarity.

Xitlali Sosa-Carlos drew a rainbow and wrote words of encouragement: “We support you. I hope you feel better. We believe that you are great.”

Across the hall, Kelly Keefe’s first-grade class was equally hard at work, and one student was particularly struck by her classmates’ compassion.

“[Alexandra] has a lot of family over there,” Keefe said, “so when we started talking about how we were going to create some art and send some words of love and encouragement to them, she was in tears. And she was very, very happy that we were doing something like this for her country.”

Keefe said her students were quite knowledgeable about the war. They even knew Vladimir Putin’s name. On a bulletin board, they brainstormed messages one might include in a letter to a sick or struggling family member.

“Don’t give up,” was one sentiment.

“Be brave,” read another. “Be strong.”

Others were more tailored to the specific situation in Ukraine: “USA believes in you.”

“Fight for your rights.”

“Stay beautiful.”

Tebay said it was important for students to discuss a global affair like the war in Ukraine because “it’s giving them a voice.”

“They hear adults talk about it all the time, but how often are they engaged in the conversation?” she said.

By forging a connection, small though it may be, Tebay said her students are breaking out of the Jackson bubble a bit to recognize some global connectedness.

Their participation also means Hogan is able to take those sentiments with her when she flies out this Friday.

“It seemed they needed an outlet for questions and feelings they’ve had about the war,” Hogan said. “They ... boiled the conflict down to its essence in a way I hadn’t expected.”