Focus on Traits Is Making a Difference in D-E’s Third Grade

By Roni Blaustein and Michelle Sussmann, Third Grade Teachers

“We’ll fill a bucket and help others in need
Put smiles on our faces by doing
good deeds.
All year long, it will make perfect sense.
We’ll help change the world.
Third grade is making a difference!”

Our “Third Graders Making a Difference” program this year is a great way to observe the School’s new “eight traits” initiative in action.

We created this curriculum in hopes that students would be engaged with each project, from feeling empathy for the challenges faced by people, to feeling and following through on a yearning to help people. Our projects are month-long endeavors, with some of them taking even longer to complete. In this way, our students, who are growing up in a world of digital instant gratification, will experience the joy and pain of working toward a common goal over an extended period of time.

It is very important that our students find meaning in, and a connection to, the work we are doing. Without this
engagement by students, they would simply be going through the motions of what would seem to be an ordinary classroom project. In order to cultivate that engagement, we kick off each month’s work with a book and/or a song or music video incorporating a message with a “call to action.” In our launch in September, we read Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud and David Messing and discussed the idea that happiness and satisfaction can be derived by simple acts of kindness. This notion became more real to students during the project involving Soles4Souls, a program by which gently used or new donated shoes are re-distributed to needy communities in partnership with a major shoe retailer. Our students felt great about loading more than 225 pairs of shoes that they gathered from their family and friends onto D-E’s white truck, which ultimately brought the shoes to our Soles4Souls checkpoint.

Collaboration was something our students also practiced when they worked together to remind and encourage each other to bring in more shoes and to count and prepare the shoes to be shipped to their next destination. Students worked in small groups to create announcements to be presented in each of the Lower School’s classrooms, they designed clever posters, and they wrote articles for our classroom bulletin board and LS Notes, a weekly e-newsletter blog for parents.

Our students are also demonstrating risk taking, in the honest way they have responded during conversations about our first two projects, and critical thinking, in the way some of our students are synthesizing what they are learning and by asking questions about what happens when our efforts leave our Dwight-Englewood campus.

In addition to becoming more giving of their time and efforts, our students will, we hope, come away from their third grade year as happier people. We aim for them to feel good about what they have accomplished and this, in turn, will make them feel more confident and independent. This will likely empower them to take more risks and be a bit more creative in what they can accomplish as they continue on in their journey at the School. This new mindset will hopefully create increased enthusiasm and positive energy in their future classrooms. We believe that this is what our D-E mission is really all about, and, in particular, helps fuel and foster “passion for life-long learning.”

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