Harry Potter Alliance stresses wizardry fun, helping others

CARL RUSSO/File photoSome of the members of the Harry Potter Alliance Club wore their ''The Weapon We Have Is Love'' t-shirts they made in this photo taken at East Derry Memorial Elementary School earlier this year. First row from left: Gabrielle Robichaud, Vincent Paradise, Kate Swerchesky, Oliver Forbes and Mitch Labbe. Second row: Caitlyn Hull, Jillian Hull, and Josephine Stahl. Third row: Audrey Labbe, Victoria Paradise and Sophie Waindle. East Derry Memorial Elementary School, along with several other Derry schools have organized the Harry Potter clubs to help teach children all about community service and how to make a difference in the world and here at home.

DERRY — They are heroes at the school for not only taking on a popular young wizard and his quest for good over evil, but also for helping others and serving the community and world.

Several local elementary schools are now hosting Harry Potter Alliance clubs — students joining together on a regular basis to talk about their love of all things Harry Potter while also learning to reach out and make positive changes in the world.

Derry's Harry Potter Alliance began at East Derry Memorial Elementary; now South Range and Grinnell schools have their own groups in place and Derry Village is expected to come online soon with their Alliance.

Alliance chapters are held around the world, teaching club members how to be true fans joining for a common interest while also teaching concepts of social activism to elementary-aged children.

Since 2005, the idea has spread into 225 chapters in 25 countries, doing work in many areas like literacy and equality.

East Derry Memorial's library staff member Mary Watson advises her school's club and also helped spearhead the formation of clubs in other schools. 

Right now, Watson said there are about 90 students making up the three groups among the schools with more schools interested in starting their own Harry Potter Alliance, including the town's two middle schools.

When they meet, students talk about Harry and his world and work on projects that service the immediate community and also support efforts around the nation and globe.

It was a popular idea with many students wanting to join, Watson said, to learn about helping others while working on fun projects.

In East Derry, Watson said students entered their own version of wizard activism with projects on climate change and carbon footprints. Efforts were put into place all around the school to support recycling and other causes.

Chapters in various locations can also vie to earn points to win their version of the Potter story "House Cup." Derry students are taking on a challenge to collect books to donate to help others. East Derry's Alliance raised more than $1,000 to support libraries stricken by last year's hurricanes through the American Library Association's Disaster Relief Fund.

Donated books were also sent to hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico.

Students are also supporting refugees and are sending "notes of hope" to those in need, Watson said, adding the fact that children can learn how simple things can truly make a different is what the Alliance strives to teach.

For Watson, it's a true Alliance when students share their love of Harry Potter with each other while learning how to be a good steward of the school and world.

Watson is a true Harry Potter fan as well, reading the books when they were first released and now passing on these interests to her own child.

"Every time I've read through the books I get something different," she said.

Watson added her 9-year-old son will read the book first before seeing the story on the big screen. He is a student at Grinnell and takes part in that's school's Alliance.

Watson added having the Harry Potter Alliance clubs is also a way to give students the power to make change.

One new effort students will take on is to bring awareness of the use of plastic straws in schools and what plastic can do to the environment by contributing to pollution.

Watson said children will make posters and do other activities to study the use of straws in schools and what could be done to potentially reduce that use.

The stories of the young boy wizard are timeless, Watson said, and it's great that the stories so many people love are now being used in schools to guide students to do good in the world and in their own community.

"(Students) will make a difference," Watson said. "It will teach these kids they can make a difference. That's where the power is."

The Harry Potter Alliance groups will host another book drive in the spring. Students will also present information on their Alliance to school board members.

Many colleges and high schools have similar Harry Potter groups in action. Watson said catching children in the younger grades gives them a big head start on how to learn about helping others.

"It's perfect to start young," she said. "I want kids to be civically engaged now."

Watson said she hopes to see Harry Potter Alliance clubs at all Derry schools by next year.

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