I've always believed that there should be opportunities for students to learn with their heads, their hands, and their hearts. Our students may understand the effects of the Cold War, how to balance equations, the scientific method, the proper format of a persuasive essay, how to speak another language, score a goal, mix watercolors, and play in tune but what will any of that matter if they don't develop a sense of compassion for others and pride in their work.
While brainstorming we began thinking, "Wouldn't this be a wonderful opportunity for kids to do something FOR kids?" My colleague invited two special education elementary classrooms in our district to be part of our pilot program. Then we approached a special education teacher who helps to prepare students for work study opportunities. With her advisement, a graduating special education senior was invited to become the project manager for this endeavor. Applying the skills that she had learned in the program, she created a Google survey for pilot classrooms, assisted with cutting and weeding the designs created by the Cricut Maker, and even created a PowerPoint presentation about proper line up procedures that she shared with the elementary students. This student developed leadership skills that will last a lifetime.
Using the Cricut Maker to design and cut the shapes...
The Cricut Maker in action...
The student project manager teaching the elementary students about proper line up procedures...
Trying out the sensory walk before it is installed...
These first sensory walks are fairly simple designs, and we look forward to working with classrooms in other district elementary schools on more elaborate projects. Although sensory walks are available for purchase, the benefits of this project were more far reaching...
Some years ago, my friend and colleague Claudia Leon and I brought our NYS Liberty Partnerships students on a field trip to the Ronald McDonald House in New Hyde Park, Long Island. We brought with us:
- wooden toys donated by adviser Steve Kaplan and the students of his Toy Making Club
- pantry items donated by adviser Mary Lapid and the students of the National Honor Society
- True Hope cancer dolls that our students had purchasing through fundraising
- and hats that I had knitted for babies
This year I had been speaking to a group of students about the Ronald McDonald House and what an impact that field trip made. At the same time, a new program was being promoted by DonorsChoose.org and the Born This Way Foundation, led by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, to support mental and emotional wellness. As an advocate for student voice to empower children to become agents of change, I had used the Flipgrid video recording tool for our SLIME event's Make a Difference Charity Pitch Fest. With all of these in mind, tt was time to write a new project with my students:
"Many of us visit the library because it is a place where we can relax and meet with our friends during free time. Our library has a classroom area, a reading lounge, and a makerspace. We even have exercise bikes that we ride on when we read. Our "Kids Kindness Kart" that has supplies so we can make things for others. During a day of working so hard, it's nice to visit the library and make things with our friends like toys for shelter dogs, cards for sick kids, and kindness rocks. Mrs. Holzweiss told us about the Ronald McDonald House, a place where families stay when their children are in the hospital. We want to help these families to cheer them up, and to know that people are thinking about them. We know that it's hard when people you love are sick, so we can take turn our pain into something positive.
If this project is funded we will have the supplies that we need to create beautiful works of art, and enjoy the wonderful smells and sounds of the library. After we paint our pictures, we are going to record video messages of hope with the Flipgrid app. Then we will print the QR code and attach it to the back of the artwork before we give them to the families at the Ronald McDonald House. They will have the artwork and a video to remind them when they need cheering up. If they want, they can even respond to our videos. We can do some awesome things together! This can make our school and the whole world a better place."
A few students participated by creating works of art in the library during their free periods, but I soon realized that it would take quite some time to paint 100 pieces of artwork to donate to the Ronald McDonald House. And so how it usually happens in the library, one thing leads to another...
My colleague Amy Scognamillo, a 6th grade ELA teacher, explained how she had been reading the picture books We're All Wonders by R.J. Palacio and Malala's Magic Pencil by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai with her students so that they could develop not only literacy skills, but also empathy. Listening to Amy speak was magical!
I explained my idea of this Ronald McDonald House art project to complement her lessons, and Amy immediately agreed to join me. For three days, my library was transformed into an art studio. With paints, crayons, markers, canvases, and brushes Amy's students created heartwarming messages of hope and inspiration. They not only learned ABOUT empathy, but they were given the opportunity to make a difference with their hands, hearts, and minds.
This project is particularly special for both Amy and me. Today is the 19th anniversary of her mother Marie's passing, and the 13th anniversary of my sister Laryssa's passing. I thank Amy not only for collaborating with me as a colleague, but the gift of making a difference with her and her students.
Click here to view the student messages: https://flipgrid.com/6af621
Today I posted a sign at our circulation counter to remind my students about ways they can "mind their manners." Out in the "real world," I remind them, that it's not always what they know but how they act and what they say. Sometimes children are oblivious to how their behavior impacts other people's perceptions of them. Other children don't have appropriate role models for them to emulate. Already I see a change in students who now know how to relate to others with this gentle reminder.
Developing good manners is a life skill, I have created given signs for the offices of my administrators, the nurse, the guidance counselor, and the dean. I even posted them in the cafeteria. It takes a village to raise a child!
Kristina A. Holzweiss
Ed Tech School Librarian
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