HELPING HANDS AND HEALING HEARTS FOR HEALTHY MINDS: HOW LADY GAGA, DONORSCHOOSE, FLIPGRID, 100 STUDENTS, AND A FRIEND MADE A DIFFERENCE
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:
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
There are no coincidences.
Today, while in Washington D.C. for EdCamp USA I made it just in time to take a look at Shakespeare's First Folio at the Folger Library. A mother and daughter visiting from Alberta, Canada were not as fortunate. As they sat down on the bench beside me the mother, Donna, remarked about the book purse that I had made. When I opened it up to show her how I made it, her daughter noticed my ducks, Laryssa's ducks that travel with me. Sometimes I explain them to people, and sometimes I don't.
There was a reason that I walked the long way to the Folger Library from my hotel today in this heat. There is a reason that Donna (a public librarian) and her daughter, Kate, did too. Kate noticed my ducks, because she has travel companions also.
Laryssa's spirit said hello to me today. There are no coincidences. Libraries bring us together.
Many years ago I tried to apply for a posthumous high school diploma for Laryssa, but there is no such thing as a posthumous or honorary high school diploma in New York State. Some states have them, and others do not. The irony is that Billy Joel received an honorary diploma from the same high school that Laryssa would have graduated from, Hicksville High School.
In 2008, the Board of Regents presented my family with a resolution in memory of Laryssa, commemorating her life and achievements. Please continue to post your duck pictures in memory of Laryssa and to bring awareness to this diploma policy in New York State.
Would you like a duck of your own?
Email me at email@example.com and I will send you one.
Post your own duck pictures in our Facebook group:
Kristina A Holzweiss