Red Cross shares life-saving info with Lakeside students

March 6, 2019

On a recent February afternoon, 24 fifth-graders at Lakeside Elementary School gathered to learn about two American Red Cross programs that could help save their lives and the lives of their families.

As part of the Pint-Sized Hero program, Red Cross Donor Recruitment Representative Sandy Carlson talked to the students about the importance of blood donations and enlisted their help sharing this information with adults.

Afterward, Red Cross volunteers and retired teachers Jetta Johnson of Bigfork and Sherry Baker of Kalispell showed the class how to prepare for disasters such as a home fire or flood and create an emergency kit.

Developed by the Red Cross, the Pint-Size Hero program teaches students in kindergarten through the fifth grade blood basics. Carlson hung colorful posters at the front of the Lakeside Elementary classroom illustrating red blood cells, plasma and platelets.

She began by promising students they wouldn’t see any real blood and served red Kool-Aid representing the parts found in blood. She also engaged students in question-and-answer discussions about what blood is, why it’s important, who needs blood and why it’s critical that adults donate.

The wide-eyed students were surprised to learn that in Montana, someone needs donated blood every 27 minutes. In the United States, it’s every 2 seconds.

Carlson explained the goal of the Pint-Size Hero Program is to engage elementary school students, faculty and parents in the blood-donation process, whether it’s sponsoring a blood drive or making a donation.

Johnson and Baker, who volunteer regularly with the Red Cross, then presented an interactive preparedness program using pillowcases to Sara Walters’ fifth-grade students.

The Red Cross implemented the program in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It’s now the organization’s signature youth preparedness program and is available throughout the country, teaching youth in grades three through five the best ways to stay safe and helping them create their own emergency supply kits by packing essential items in a pillowcase for easy transport during a disaster.

After the pillowcase training, students are empowered to share experiences, fears and solutions with others in their family, Johnson said. These teachings are beneficial communitywide as well, because forest fires and floods are very real threats in the region, she added.

In Lakeside, the educators also teach about home fires and the need for smoke alarms and developing an emergency exit plan.

Johnson received a “whoa” from the class when she shared that the Red Cross responds to a home fire every eight minutes.

Because each student brings home a decorated pillowcase, there is ample time to discuss emergencies with family members as they gather items for their emergency kit.

The project includes ways students can work through their emotions during and after a disaster and tips for coping with fear and stress. They learned to slowly breathe in while imagining the air as a favorite color. When exhaling, the focus would be on gray, or unwanted, thoughts.

When Johnson received her degree in elementary education in 1963, she didn’t foresee spending her retirement teaching young learners about blood and disasters.

Yet, that is what her volunteer days around her home base near Bigfork have brought her. She regularly dons her Red Cross volunteer vest and visits regional classrooms and community groups to teach some of the Red Cross’ most successful programs.

Johnson is a disaster-response, blood-drive and educational volunteer who shares her time and tales of the subtle rewards she receives being back in the classroom. She urges other working educators to incorporate the Pillowcase Project into their classrooms. Teachers can contact the Red Cross at 800-272-6668 to find out about scheduling a Pillowcase Project presentation.

To learn more about becoming a pillowcase presenter, call 208-258-0592 or email idmt.recruiting@redcross.org.

Amy Joyner is a Red Cross writing team volunteer.