By VICTORIA MANEVAR
Over the past few weeks, the UMW community showed up in a big way for 9-year-old Balian from Western Wayne Elementary School in Indiana, who just had his ninth birthday where none of his 30 classmates attended. Dr. John Broome, associate professor for the College of Education here at UMW, heard of Balian’s story from a close friend and sent out emails to his students requesting that they make as many birthday cards as they can for Balian.
“My close friend’s mother is a teacher at Western Wayne Elementary School in Indiana,” said Broome in his email, when he first read about Balian’s story on Facebook, his reaction was instant. “Immediately, I responded back and my initial response was how awful this is and how heartbreaking this is for a kid to experience that.”
Afterwards, Broome started posting on different Facebook groups to spread the message.
“The first thing I did was send an email out to my college and the next day, I sent it out to all of the Facebook groups of the college, junior class, sophomore class and the freshman class,” said Broome. “I just put it out to everyone.”
Many different clubs and organizations at UMW responded and Dr. Broome ended up receiving 784 cards. “For example, [clubs such as] Women’s Rugby, Rowing Club, College of Education [all expressed support],” said Broome. “There were also different departments on campus [that participated].”
This event, however, did not just stay on campus. According to Broome, it quickly became a regional thing. “You also have local schools as well, they did it at James Monroe, Rocky Run Elementary, Brooke Point High School and Stafford Elementary School,” said Broome. “A lot of religious groups did it in Sunday School or bible study. People went home and did it with their families, with their own kids.”
Courtlyn Plunkett, a sophomore History major, heard about this event because she is part of the College of Education and saw Broome’s initial email. “As being a future teacher, it made me really sad that a 9-year-old didn’t have any friend come to his birthday party, and so I thought that would be a nice way to celebrate his birthday,” said Plunkett.
Many people also took a more personal approach to the cards, according to Dr. Broome. “What is interesting about all of it is you can tell through the cards, that we needed to do this as much as he needed it,” said Broome.
Austin Williams, a junior Biochemistry major, read about the event on Facebook and also connected to Balian on a personal level. “I was picked on in middle school so I get it,” said Williams.
Broome is taking this whole experience and turning it into a lesson for people everywhere, but he is putting a focus on it for teachers in the classroom. He is also adding a digital twist on this project.
“The coolest thing is I am turning this into a website,” said Broome. “I am currently digitizing 20 percent of the cards. I think it is important to create a digital space by which it is not so much about the 30 kids, but about how we treat one another, and to what degree do we remember children and trauma in classrooms and having kids process things.”