Third Graders Making a Difference – A Year in Review

Contributed by Roni Blaustein and Michelle Sussmann, Third Grade Teachers

Consider this math equation: 229 pairs of shoes + over 1,000 box tops + dozens of cans and boxes of food + hundreds of thousands of grains of rice + 167 pairs of pajamas + thousands of dollars worth of diapers + lots of valentines for veterans + $608 in spare change + nearly 1,000 toiletry items + 90 recyclable canvas bags + $1,555 for the ASPCA and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital = Third Graders Making a Difference!

At the beginning of this 2014–15 school year, our third grade embarked on a monthly initiative to help different causes — local, regional and national. Each month, beginning in September with their Soles4Souls shoe collections drive, the students were dedicated to making an impact and concurrently flexing their traits muscles.

Danny Lax '24 carried firewood as one of the household tasks that he took on for the "Third Graders Making a Difference" project.

Danny Lax ’24 carried firewood as one of the household tasks that he took on for the “Third Graders Making a Difference” project.

Uma Rajan ’24 demonstrates the trait of engagement when she says, “Can you imagine not owning a pair of shoes? Our shoes changed people’s lives. Now they can walk in the heat and on rough grounds with a pair of shoes instead of barefoot. We collected 229 pairs of shoes. I feel very proud, and I feel so happy too. A journey of helping people begins with a simple pair of shoes.”

The rest of the year exemplified how the traits of collaboration, creativity, perseverance, organization and preparation all are essential to the learning process.

In October, the students collected Box Tops for Education; in all, more than 1,200 Box Tops were collected, and for each Box Top 10 cents was sent to a school chosen by the students. Chloe Jacobson ’24 explained, “After reading a book about Louis Braille, we decided to have the money sent to St. Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City, NJ. The people at that school had never had another school send them money [earned through] Box Tops. They were so excited to be getting the money so that they could buy supplies.”

In November, there was a special focus on the problem of hunger. The third graders joined the Middle and Upper Schools in a Thanksgiving Food Drive and helped collect boxed and canned food for the locally based Center for Food Action. Additionally the students participated in an online program called “”—for every new vocabulary word they learned, a grain of rice was donated to hungry people worldwide.

As thoughts turned to gift-giving in December, the students made the conscious decision to also think about giving. Participating in a special Carter’s pajamas program, the students asked everyone in the entire Lower School to contribute a new pair of PJs. Olesya Pogrebnyak ’24 stated, “You all were such a big help because we collected 167 pairs of pajamas. We celebrated our success with a school-wide pajama day!”

In January, for two weeks, the students agreed to take on household tasks typically handled by their parents or other family members. They were then paid for doing these tasks, brought their earnings to a store, and then chose critical supplies for the Bergen Family Center for women and children. Nora Mager ’24 commented, “I always thought there were only big charities to help, but then I learned that there are some [organizations] right outside your front door that need help. And I never realized that just third graders could make that big of a difference.”

The students chose to reach out to people who help protect our country and help to keep us safe during the month of February. Davide Orlov ’24 explained, “We did two special projects: first, we made valentines for veterans. It was our way of sending our love and saying thank you. We even received a letter from them telling us how happy our cards made them. We also collected spare change for the whole month. By the end of the month we had collected $608.30 just in spare change. Wow! We came to see that a little change can make a big change. We donated this money to the Wounded Warriors program, [which] helps support people who are in the military after they [return] home.”


The traits of perseverance and organization helped ensure success (and satisfaction) in a student-led initiative on behalf of St. Jude’s.

With the arrival of March, the trait of risk-taking came to the fore. The students collected more than 1,000 toiletry items and then delivered them to the Family Promise of Bergen County, a homeless shelter. Ella Parlak ’24 noted, “Before we did this I never noticed poor people asking for help, but once we started I noticed the people sitting outside and asking for money. Before I thought everything was perfect and no one needed help, but now I see how many people [actually] do need help.”

In April, the students turned their attention to the environment. After learning how harmful plastic bags are for our environment, they decided to promote the use of canvas bags. Ben Tsirelman ’24 explained, “We decorated canvas bags with pictures and messages about the environment and we wrote letters explaining how important it is to use canvas bags instead of plastic bags. Then we gave these items as gifts and asked others to use them.” Sierra Vasquez ’24 said, “I think [the world] literally looks better since we started doing this!”

Finally, in May, the third grade held its annual used book sale. All in the Lower School were asked to bring in their gently used books. The students’ seventh grade buddies were also asked to help. At the end of the two-day sale, they raised $1,575. After the sale, the third graders were given the chance to present the money that they raised to a voted upon charity and they selected two charities: the ASPCA and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“Third Graders Making a Difference” epitomizes the premise and promise of our traits initiative here at D-E. Said Leah Ozgun ’24, “Before we started this program, I didn’t really know about problems and so I did not know to care. But this [experience] has now touched my heart, and I love how we [sent] a miracle every time we did something to make a difference.”

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