LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Located at 28th and Duncan, Atkinson Elementary has long been a staple in west Louisville and Janelle Henderson was looking for a unique way to connect her second grade students to their school community.

It started with an article the class read in December about the Portland neighborhood and how people perceived it, Henderson said.

"Students kept saying, 'but there is crime there, it can't be good' and from there, it kind of lingered with me," she said. "I felt that the students didn't really know about all the good things in their neighborhoods."

Henderson collected lots of books and started having classroom discussions about the people and places that make up a neighborhood.

The class read "Madlenka" a book by Peter Sis about a little girl who thinks she's visiting another world, when she's really just outside her own backyard.

"It's about discovering you can have a whole new world within your neighborhood," Henderson said.

From there, the class embarked on an exploration of their West End community.

The students interviewed third and fourth graders about their favorite places and what they would change. They began to write about how they felt and collected data on charts -- all hands-on examples of the language arts, math and social studies curriculum Henderson was trying to teach.

To provide real life experiences, Henderson has invited community members to share their passion and love for the neighborhood with the students during a series of speaker visits. The first visitor was a local cartographer who talked to them about making maps.

On Friday, Jerald Smith from the Kentucky Science Center visited the school and helped students make signs as part of an activity for the kids to express how they want to make their neighborhoods better.

Seven-year-old Sha'niya Philpot lives in the Shawnee neighborhood.

She said one good thing about her community is that "people pick up trash off the ground" and that "people help out the homeless."

One bad thing about her community?

"The shootings," she said.

If she had one message for her community, Sha'niya says it's this: "Don't hurt people, help them."

The visits will continue on Tuesday with owners of The Table Cafe, a restaurant in Portland. 

"They will learn about how they serve locally grown, fresh food and how it operates under a pay-what-you-can model," Henderson said.

The students' journey will culminate April 22 with a walking field trip to Love City, a non-profit organization located in Portland dedicated to helping individuals rise from brokenness to life in abundance.

Henderson, who has only been teaching a year, says she has already learned a lot from this experience.

"I didn't really know about the neighborhood I grew up in," said Henderson, who grew up across from Chickasaw Park on the Southwestern Parkway. "I've learned about how many awesome things and places are in Portland and Shawnee. I have been on this journey with them learning about their neighborhoods and it's brought our classroom really close together."

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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