A Syracuse, NY, middle school is helping to focus students on the things that truly matter.
“Having a bed to sleep in,” wrote Lincoln Middle School 7th-grader Jesse Swank in his school-provided gratitude journal.
“Having my glasses,” another entry read.
Swank is among about 500 Lincoln students who received the specially bound gratitude journals in October after a chance encounter by principal LaJuan White sparked a community-wide fundraising campaign to make it happen, Syracuse.com reports.
The idea came last summer after White had a long night helping a student and stopped in to the local Original Grain for a breakfast smoothie. While there, she noticed a “gratitude journal” on display at the downtown restaurant that encouraged customers to take a moment to chronicle what they are grateful for.
White jotted down a note and it lifted her spirits, so she tasked English teacher Marleah Tkacz with tracking down the makers of the journal, Grateful Peoples, to bring the concept to Lincoln classrooms.
Tkacz contacted Grateful Peoples founder Teddy Droseros, and he offered to sell the school journals at roughly half price—$8.00 each. White, Tkacz, and others at Lincoln then launched a fundraising drive to get journals into the hands of every student, and Original Grain was among the first to help out.
The restaurant concocted a special “gratitude smoothie” with proceeds to help the cause, and other businesses in the area quickly followed suit.
“It sounded really cool to me,” said Eric Hinman, one of Original Grain’s owners.
Urban Life held a charity spin class, and O Yoga hosted a yoga class for employees of the local marketing firm Terakeet, which raised $350. Hinman also contacted Paul Messina, owner of Apizza Regionale, to expand on the fundraising.
Messina brought several Lincoln students to his restaurant to create special “gratitude pies” that also raised $1,300 toward the project. Others from the Lincoln school neighborhood donated money as well, including one unnamed woman who dropped off a $500 check.
“It just speaks to the whole idea of gratitude,” White told Syracuse.com. “It took on a life of its own.”
Within weeks the community raised about $5,000, and Droseros rented a car, loaded it with 550 journals, and delivered them from New York City to the upstate school in person.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said. “I’m really inspired by the people in Syracuse.”
“It was really a community effort,” Droseros said.
Each gratitude journal, White said, belongs to a specific student.
“It has your name on it,” White said. “It’s very personal.”
Droseros said he created the gratitude journals and put them in public places about a year ago to encourage people to give thanks. The effort eventually turned into a nonprofit, one he hopes will now involve more collaboration with schools.
Lincoln students told Syracuse.com mornings have evolved from a hectic ordeal last school year into several minutes of quiet time to reflect on what’s most important.
“This year,” Swank, the 7th-grader, said, “it’s more peaceful and calm.”
The daily reflection is critically important because it helps students to focus their attention on gratitude, a virtue that “has enormous moral significance,” according to philosopher Laurence Thomas.
Thomas explained in The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, that it’s through gratitude that humans acknowledge the significance of each other to form basic social connections.
“When a person acts in good will towards another, then she or he is acknowledging that the other has moral value,” he wrote. “Gratitude is a natural response to being so treated.”
Educators and parents can begin engaging students in cultivating appreciation and gratitude with a curriculum guide from the Jubilee Centre at the University of Birmingham.
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