By Robbie Owens

CEDAR HILL, Texas (CBS11) – “I am broke and defeated,” reads Permenter Middle School student Sierra Googe. “I pretend I don’t hear people judging me as I walk by. I touch my cardboard box as I beg people for food and money. I cry at the thought that my family doesn’t care that I’m homeless… I am broke and defeated.”

The powerful words are hers, but the persona of homelessness is one the 7th grader crafted as part of an assignment at the school’s STEAM Academy to build compassion into the curriculum.

Student Jaden Spurlock shows off a classmate’s poem that reads, “I see people looking at me in a disgusting way… I am cold and hungry.”

It is not exactly sugar plums and presents, and school leaders say that is the assignment’s intent: urging the students to think about the causes and consequences of homelessness.

Joshua Roberts wrote about several characters to highlight the various factors that contribute to homelessness among teens.

“She had parents who were alcoholics,” says Roberts of one of his journal entries who became homeless after running away from a chaotic home. “What if this were my life? What would I do?”

School leaders celebrate the questions, because the search for answers could one day change the world.

“Some of them come to school and think ‘oh, woe is me! I don’t have this, and I don’t have that’,” says Permenter principal Tonya Haddox, “so we needed them to see that no matter what, there’s someone else who has it tougher and you can always help someone else.

The assignment in the district’s new STEAM Academy at Permenter begins with academics, that are applied in a new way. For example: students had a budget and then had to figure out how to cope with unexpected expenses.

“A lot of us failed (to make ends meet),” says Googe. “We ran out of money and it was only for a month! We ran out of money and so we became homeless… and we lost our jobs, and our kids had to go without food because we couldn’t afford school lunch, and it was just like WOW!”

The assignment ends with a hands on, hearts in, lesson on compassion.

“At first glance, when you think about homelessness, it’s not what you think,” says 7th grade student Kennedi Richardson. “It’s really more complicated.”

Permenter 7th grade science teacher, Judge Solomon says he’s been most proud of the students’ growth– and how they are sharing their knowledge and new perspectives with other students.

“This is free thinking for them,” says Solomon. “We are facilitators, they are guiding their own learning.”

Newly enlightened and now engaged, the students collected donations to assemble “blessing bags” for the homeless. Filled with food and hygiene items, most of the bags will be donated to a local non-profit. Others will be discreetly slipped into the backpacks of fellow students, who are, yes, homeless.

All of the students said they are now more appreciative of what they have and of how hard their parents work to provide for them.

“And now, I don’t ask for as much,” adds Googe.

The students are also excited that their efforts will extend beyond the school community. Teachers will also grab a few of the bags to keep in their cars to distribute to homeless they encounter around North Texas. Each bag will also include a note of encouragement from a Permenter student.

“I hope they use this to get better and try to get back on their feet,” adds Richardson.

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