Karen Perez, 9, made valentines with Rosemary S. Photo: April Pokorny

It’s not always easy to get elementary students to do writing assignments but when you wrap them up in fun, you can add in lifelong lessons on kindness, acceptance and compassion, too. That’s what happened Thursday morning in Roanoke Avenue school’s cafeteria.

Gary Karlson’s third-graders and a small group of adults who have intellectual or other developmental disabilities met to create valentine cards. Each adult sat at a table surrounded by an enthusiastic group of 8- and 9-year olds. The tabletops were strewn with pink and red precut construction paper hearts, doilies and sheets of stickers along with markers, glue sticks, colored pencils and other art supplies. Both the students and their guests were busy making cards.

Chance Farruggia, 9, presents a valentine to teacher Gary Karlson. Photo: April Pokorny

Karlson’s ultimate goal was to have his students understand that they would meet people very unlike themselves and not to fear or ignore them.

“You can’t care about something unless you’re aware of it,” he said as he watched his students interact with the adult at their table.

Aubrie Evans, 8, said she was making her card for “Annie because she’s old and I want to make something special for her, as she smiled and pointed with her chin toward Annie H. sitting across the table from her.

Annie H., Jill C. and Rosemary S. all attend Westhampton Beach AHRC‘s adult day habilitation program. Annie Schlick, the marketing & communications manager for AHRC of Suffolk County accompanied the group along with two aides. Schlick explained how the role of AHRC has grown over 70 years to include services for adults — and how field trips like the one to mingle with Roanoke Avenue School students or shopping trips into town help its attendees live a fuller life.

Bryan Garcia gives a valentine to Anne H. Photo: April Pokorny

Bryan Garcia, 8, sitting next to Aubrie, had a stack of Valentine cards next to him. He made one for his little sister, one for his brother’s girlfriend, one for his mother and another for Annie, which he proudly presented to her after adorning it with lots of stickers.

The class was completely engrossed in the projects. Polite requests could be heard around the room — “Does anyone know where the blue marker went?” or “Can I please use some of the stickers on your sheet?” And one or more of the students would always respond just as politely.

Jill C. said she loved that the “kids smile at me,” as she received a card made by 8-year-old Cindy Greeromaseros. At the next table, Rosemary S. beamed at the students around her table, “I love children,” she said with a smile that lit up her whole face.

Some students made cards for their parents or other special people in their lives. Jason Davis, 8, made one for his father because “he takes me special places like baseball.” Karlson ended up with a fistful of them and even principal Thomas Payton, who came to observe the activity for a while, left with a valentine.

Jason Davis, 8, left and Aubrie Evans, 8. Photos: April Pokorny
Jill C. exchanging Valentines with Cindy Greeromasseros, 8. Photo: April Pokorny
Photo: April Pokorny

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April Pokorny
April is a writer, reporter and copy editor for the LOCAL news websites. She is a retired educator and proud grandma. April lives in Calverton. Email April