Library reaches out with gratitude tree

The Healdsburg Regional Library is offering students a unique way to show their gratitude, and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time.

Wildfires that raged through Sonoma County and Napa Valley, Calif. in October left many in the area scrambling for safety as flames devoured their homes and belongings, but the library’s new Gratitude Tree is helping some to cope with the destruction, The Healdsburg Tribune reports.

Many Healdsburg residents were lucky enough to avoid the fires, Healdsburg librarian Charity Anderson said, but children in local schools haven’t escaped the reality that’s left friends and families in dire straits.

“The tree is exactly what it sounds like,” Anderson told the news site. “It invites people in the community to say what they’re grateful for and creates a beautiful art piece.”

“This is a good way for children to say what they’re grateful for, which is really important after the fires,” she said.

The idea for the Gratitude Tree started this summer, well before several fires scorched nearly 200,000 acres, consuming roughly 8,400 structures and killing dozens of people. Four children’s librarians from around the county came up with the low commitment idea to engage children for Gratitude Month in November using a tree, with paper leaves kids can use to write what they’re thankful for and hang from its branches.

At the Healdsburg library, officials unveiled the tree, which sits near the children’s area earlier this month, and it’s already filling in with leaves expressing thanks “for the first responders of Sonoma County,” “friends and family,” and other hopeful messages.

The Tribune notes that the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) emphasizes how wildfires often leave children with fear, worry, distress, and anxiety. The damage, both physical and emotional, stems from concerns about loved ones, separation from their families, and can lead to behavior problems, as well as problems sleeping or eating.

“Even in the most difficult situations, it is important to identify some positive aspect and to stay hopeful for the future,” the NCTSN advises. “A positive and optimistic outlook helps children see the good things in the world around them. This outlook can be one way to help them through even the most challenging times.”

Robert H. Frank also observed the intersection of gratitude and behavior in The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

Frank pointed to the “large body of research by academic psychologists who have studied how the emotion of gratitude affects people’s behavior.”

“The general finding is that gratitude makes people not only happier and healthier, but also more generous toward others,” he wrote.

In other words, gratitude is infectious, particularly in folks who acknowledge that their good fortune isn’t entirely their own making.

“Interesting enough, gratitude is often stronger in people who believe that they have been lucky rather than in those who believe that success is solely due to their own efforts,” Frank wrote. “Subjects who’d been asked to recall a good event and come up with external causes—many of whom mentioned luck explicitly, or cited factors like supportive spouses, thoughtful teachers, and financial aid—gave more than 25 percent larger donations than those who’d been asked to offer internal causes to explain the good event.”

The fires in California have undoubtedly left many in the Napa Valley region grateful to be alive, and many surely recognize that prevailing winds, an act of God, or some form of luck played a role.

The Healdsburg Gratitude Tree provides an opportunity for local students to reflect on that reality, and share their gratitude for avoiding the terrible fate that befell their neighbors.

Anderson told the Tribune that’s something worth celebrating, and she now plans to keep the Gratitude Tree up through the end of the year to continue to spread the message of hope.

“Maybe we’ll even put Christmas lights on it,” she said.

Lessons from the Jubilee Centre can help students practice the virtue of gratitude in the classroom.

Rocketship Academy will ‘touch your soul’ with gratitude

Teachers and administrators at Nashville’s Rocketship United Academy want students to understand that the school’s core values are more than slogans on a poster, so they’re bringing them to life through daily rituals that “create a consistent, predictable, and positive school experience.”

Across the public charter school network, Rocketship schools share four primary values—respect, persistence, empathy, and responsibility—and each school crafts a fifth, individualized value with the help of parents and staff.

“Our core values fit within our mission to prepare our students to thrive in school and beyond by equipping them with critical character skills. Many of our students come from high-poverty communities,” 3rd-grade STEM teacher Tatum Schultz wrote recently for Rocketship.

“Research shows that children living in these communities experience more ‘toxic stress’ than children living in middle or upper class neighborhoods. Toxic stress makes it difficult for children to manage their emotions, resolve conflicts, and respond to provocations,” Schultz wrote. “That is why we create a consistent, predictable, and positive school experience that helps our students develop the social-emotional skills they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.”

That development occurs in morning “community meetings” with students three times a week to focus on a character education curriculum tailored to upper- and lower-grade students. The program uses five characters with different temperaments and personalities to illustrate important concepts in ways young students can duly relate.

The approach is “designed to give students depersonalized opportunities to practice the skills to recognize their emotions, demonstrate care for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations,” Schultz wrote.

In upper grades, students learn to track their behaviors, feelings, and progress with a mood journal.

At Schultz’s school, parents, administrators, and others selected gratitude for the school’s fifth core value, and educators have incorporated exercises that transformed the concept from a word into “a feeling that will touch your soul when you walk through the front doors,” Schultz wrote.

One example, developed by Rocketship’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support team, is Gratitude Grams that allow students to express thanks and appreciation and show kindness to others in their own individual way.

“Every day, for seven days, students were given a half sheet of colored paper with a different student’s name on it,” Schultz explained. “Their responsibility was to watch gratitude spread. They had to write one sentence thanking that student for something they had done or they could capture appreciation for them as a peer.

“At the end of seven days, the students would receive their own name and could read what seven other students appreciated about them.”

Rocketship demonstrates what James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson call “intentional” schools in The Content of Their Character, a summary of field research in school culture and character formation from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

In “intentional” schools, according to editors Hunter and Olson:

The moral and missional ethos of a school was reinforced through a range of practices, or routinized actions—some formal, some informal—all oriented toward giving tangible expressions to the school’s values and beliefs. These included school mottoes, honor codes, school assemblies, mission statements, dress codes, statues, stories, student handbooks and contracts outlining behavioral expectations, and the like . . . All of it bears on the likelihood children will ‘catch’ character.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a model of virtue formation that can help educators ensure that the tenets of strong character are not only taught, but caught by students, as well as have a positive impact on students’ home life.

Social-emotional learning and achievement at Valor

Valor Collegiate Academies in Tennessee is crediting a sharp focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) for students’ astonishing academic success, which propelled its Tennessee schools to the top 1 percent of all middle schools in the state in its first year.

The success at Valor not only sheds light on the value of social-emotional learning, but also provides an opportunity to connect those lessons with broader discussions about good character and morals.

The Charter School Growth Fund, which invested $1.5 million for Valor’s first two schools launched in 2013, featured the schools in a recent “CSGF Portfolio Spotlight” on the organization’s website.

Todd Dickson, CEO of Valor Collegiate Academies, explained that the concept for the charter school was inspired by his work at a high-performing charter school in California that focused heavily on academics, and his twin brother Daren’s time helping children in social services with social and emotional skills.

“Students at Valor spend more time on their social and emotional growth than most traditional students. We first work on self-awareness and self-management to help them develop a strong sense of who they are. Then, we work on social awareness and social management to help them develop positive relationships with others. We believe that doing both things well helps develop healthy kids and communities,” Dickson said.

“We also hear from students that they feel safe here and that they have trusting relationships with peers and adults in the building. This has been beneficial in an academic setting; scholars are more willing to take academic risks. They listen to other people’s opinions and accept a diversity of perspectives.”

Valor schools use “The Valor Compass” to guide student growth and help them focus on four primary objectives: Sharp Minds, Noble Purpose, Big Hearts, and Aligned Actions.

“Mentor time, Expeditions, and academic courses all incorporate explicit and experiential experiences to help scholars develop sharp minds, big hearts, noble purpose, and aligned actions,” according to the Valor website. “Valor scholars develop character strengths such as kindness, determination, curiosity, gratitude, and integrity within a supportive community.”

Ryan Olson, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies on Culture at the University of Virginia, points out in “Character Education” that an SEL researcher argued that “the orientation of social-emotional learning toward action and skill” in SEL programs can complement the “concern for volition and intention often found in character and moral education programs.”

Adding curriculum resources on why students should do and be good—reasons outside oneself and for the benefit of others and a community—improves the stickiness of character formation, and getting students to go deeper by working on developing good sense when there is conflict between the social and emotional skills they’re learning, is an excellent next step, Olson argues.

The UK’s Jubilee Centre offers a worksheet to assist teachers to help students think about the kind of person and type of life they want to pursue.

NY students interview vets, use stories to create interactive book

Fourth graders in Pittsford, New York’s Thornell Road Elementary School are making some new friends in their community and chronicling their stories in a book about service and sacrifice.

Teacher Toni Stevens-Oliver’s class recently interviewed 23 veterans from the Rayson-Miller American Legion Post 899 to get an intimate understanding of why they joined the service and how it shaped their lives. The students then chronicled the stories in a new book called “Veteran’s Voices” – which also features an online app to view videos of the veterans in their own words, WHAM reports.

“The book was a way for us to connect one-on-one personally a student with a veteran and get to know each other through the veteran telling their story and the student writing that story,” Stevens-Oliver told the news site.

The veterans “were blown away by the interest the students showed, the respect the children showed,” she said. “We hope our book inspires people to ask their local veterans what their story is.”

Students told WHAM they learned a lot from the class project.

“Freedom isn’t free, and the veterans sacrificed a lot of things,” student James Kazacos said. “They sacrificed time with their family, holidays.”

“They are just like normal people, except that they step up and do a job that takes courage,” classmate Jake Schreyer added.

Al Herdkoltz, commander of the Rayson-Miller post, said the effort gives him hope the stories of local veterans will not be forgotten.

“They actually had an interest and they were my friends,” he said. “I felt very comfortable and at ease. I felt I had a new friendship even though there was quite a bit of age difference, they were my friends.”

Steven-Oliver shared the project on Shutterfly and posted supporting documents to her Pittsford Schools website as a template for teachers looking to pursue a similar project. The school page also features a special shout out from Sen. Rich Funke acknowledging students’ hard work.

“To take the time to not only interview our veterans, but to take those interviews and incorporate them into an interactive book was special, not just to them but to all of us who care about our veterans,” Funke said in a video message.

Researchers at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture stress the importance of developing a sense of responsibility for and ownership of something larger than students’ self-interests. In The Content of Their Character, researchers noted how rural schools are particularly strong at fostering connections to broader spheres of moral obligation through immigration, religion and the military.

“In addition to building greater knowledge of cultures and societies outside of the U.S.,” researchers wrote, great teachers “were aiming primarily to build social-perspective taking, empathy and general critical thinking skills.”

Much of the work centers on gratitude, and the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a plethora of research on the subject, including the public’s perception of gratitude and links between the virtue and service.

“More recently, the Centre has extended its focus on gratitude by examining the effects of teaching interventions on comprehensions of gratitude and related virtues,” according to the website.

Welding students step up with donations to help veterans improve park, visit Washington, D.C.

Randy Ark, an advocate for military veterans in Springfield, Ohio, is commending local welding students for supporting the men and women in uniform who fought for the freedoms we have as Americans.

Students with the Clark Career Technology Center donated $1,000 earned from a recent Welding Rodeo to renovate Clark County Veteran’s Memorial Park and send veterans to Washington, D.C. to tour national memorials in their honor, the Springfield News-Sun reports.

Students raised a total of $3,600 by selling unique structures made from scrap metal at the Rodeo, and donated $500 each to the park and Honor Flight Dayton, a nonprofit that takes veterans and their families and caregivers to the nation’s capital.

Ark told the news site the donations are a big deal, for several reasons.

“One is to getting the money for the park, which we need, and two is the attitude of these young students,” he said, adding that it’s the second time in the last few years students have donated a portion of their profits.

Ark said local veterans are raising $380,000 to finish a memorial at the park that will feature a Vietnam area, stage, benches, and an arbor with vegetation. Funds will also pay for landscaping and engravings on the monuments, the Sun-News reports.

Al Bailey, with Honor Flight Dayton, told the news site the students’ $500 donation is enough to send at least one veteran to D.C.

“To send a veteran back to D.C. to see the memorials is $500, so we’re doing whatever we can to raise that kind of money,” he said.

Junior Zack Parcels said he was happy to put his welding skills to good use by creating a derby bike that sold at the rodeo for $50.

“It feels good just to know that the things that we can make out of nothing can sell to help the community,” he said.

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture stress the importance of developing spheres of moral obligation. It is here where one develops a sense of responsibility for and ownership of something larger than oneself. Rural schools, their research found, are particularly strong in fostering these connections, with immigration, religion, and military being the top three. Great teachers, they write, “In addition to building greater knowledge of cultures and societies outside of the US, were aiming primarily to build social-perspective taking, empathy and general critical thinking skills” (The Content of Their Character, p. 63).

Fostering empathy, social-perspective taking and general critical thinking takes talent and skill on the part of teachers and this type of work is very challenging for educators.  To gain support to do this work teachers will benefit from the strategies offered by the UK’s The Jubilee Centre.  In particular, teachers will find information to strengthen character formation here.

Research: Children grow up “happier” if they are grateful

A growing body of research shows that teaching children true gratitude can have beneficial health effects, while also leading to stronger relationships with others.

While parents have long pressed their children to say “thank you” as a sign of good manners, researchers contend that when kids show gratitude and actually mean it, the practice can lower stress, battle depression, improve impulse control, and lead to a more optimistic and positive outlook, Business Insider reports.

Research by Sara Algoe, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina, explains one of the most significant keys to well-being is being able to acquire and maintain relationships. Gratitude is the glue that can bring people together as well as creating happiness from the inside out,” according to the news site.

“In her study, she calls it, ‘Find, Remind and Bind,’ citing the process of being sincere in thanks, and then getting a positive response in return, creates a stronger relationship bond with lasting side effects.”

Other research shows the benefits are both physical and mental, and include reduced depression, better impulse control for things like spending, eating, and drinking; a more optimistic and positive outlook; a stronger immune system; lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol; and lower blood pressure.

“. . . Researchers at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities conducted a study focused solely on gratitude interventions in treating depression and found that practices such as keeping a gratitude journal, writing a letter of gratitude, counting blessings and gratitude visits all had a powerful effect, with journals being the most effective,” Business Insider reports.

The benefits of gratitude, however, rely on sincerity.

Researchers with UNC, Duke, and NC State pointed out that children as young as six years old know the difference between genuine gratitude, and simply saying “thank you.”

“Many of the children we talked to had a lovely phrase for telling the difference between the two,” the North Carolina psychologists wrote. “They’d say: ‘She said thank you, but she didn’t mean it.’ So even at that age they are getting it—but they lack the perspective, the experience of it.”

Business Insider offered several ways parents can help youngsters develop the habit of sincere gratitude to propel them toward a happy and healthy life.

The news site suggests parents and other adults model the behavior they want kids to display, with a focus on presenting an example of sincere gratitude. Adults can also talk with children about the concept of gratitude, and explain how developing the skill within themselves can positively impact health and happiness.

Children can also develop true gratitude when the adults in their lives encourage volunteer work or other activities that illustrate why they should be grateful, such as working in a soup kitchen or helping needy families.

The research outlined by Business Insider affirms the benefits of gratitude cited by Robert H. Frank in The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

Frank notes there is a “large body of research by academic psychologists who have studied how the emotion of gratitude affects people’s behavior.

“The general finding is that gratitude makes people not only happier and healthier but also more generous toward others,” he wrote in “Just Desserts: Why We Tend to Exaggerate Merit—and Pay for Doing So.”

Frank also pointed to evidence that people who believe gratitude is not entirely their own making are often more grateful, and more likely to show their appreciation.

“Subjects who’d been asked to recall a good event and come up with external causes—many of whom mentioned luck explicitly, or cited factors like supportive spouses, thoughtful teachers, and financial aid—gave more than 25 percent larger donations than those who’d been asked to offer internal causes to explain the good event,” Frank wrote.

ND community rallies around student diagnosed with cancer

North Dakota’s Dickenson High School volleyball team has a message for senior setter Lauren Jorda: “Her battle is our battle” and “God is within her, she will not fail.”

Those words of encouragement were printed on teal t-shirts and presented to Jorda just a week after she revealed to her teammates that she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and that’s just one of many ways the community has stepped in to help, The Dickinson Press reports.

“It was pretty tough, but we all just told her that we were going to be there for her no matter,” junior Taylor Nelson told the news site. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy for her, so we were just there for her support. It took us all by surprise, but we knew we were going to help her through it.”

In the week between Jorda’s announcement and the Sept. 13 game against the Mandan Braves, her teammates created a fundraiser to sell the shirts online, raising thousands to help with medical expenses. Jorda was brought to tears when she learned about the effort in the locker room, then took to court to find the Braves also wearing the shirts. Nearly the entire student section also wore teal, the color representing ovarian cancer, the Press reports.

“It’s just been cool to see the t-shirts in places you wouldn’t even think of,” senior Madi Eckelberg said. “There’s just been a lot of support.”

In the weeks since, Jorda’s team has raised thousands through shirt sales, while others launched different fundraisers. The Dickinson High School National Honor Society held a bake sale, and classmate Addie Kuehl designed and sold bracelets with Psalm 46:5 to help pay for treatment and expenses.

Dickinson State University’s Nursing Student Association filled a gift basket with gift cards, gas cards and other goodies. Students at other area schools also bought shirts and donated cash before volleyball games.

Jorda has undergone seven surgeries so far to remove the cancer, but the future remains unknown, KXMD reports.

“Grateful is the one word I can come up with because it’s really making a difference in her fight,” Jorda’s father, Tom Jorda, told the Press. “We are basically quiet people, but for this to happen to this level and extent – teams throughout the state reaching out to her, people we don’t even know are reaching out to her because of sportsmanship. You can’t explain it; the nature of people and community is phenomenal.”

No words can express her gratitude, Jorda said.

“There’s really no words to put in to how it really feels,” she said. “I know Dickinson is a tight-knit community; we’re not a big, huge town. So everyone kind of knows everyone and when something happens like this, we just band together. It’s unreal.”

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, points to a community’s moral traditions as a critical element in or how people take action to help others.

Hunter wrote in “The Tragedy of Moral Education”:

What empathy we feel may help us understand someone else’s needs, and even feel the desire to help that person. But without embedded habits and moral traditions, empathy does not tell us what to do, nor when, nor how.

The nonprofit Action for Happiness offers resources for parents and educators to help youngsters develop traditions and habits centered on helping others, through kindness projects, volunteer work, activism and other means.

“Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier and more caring society,” according to the website. “Members of the movement make a simple pledge: to try to create more happiness in the world around them. We provide ideas and resources to enable people to take action at home, at work or in their community.”