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CardsStudents and teachers across the nation have had to turn to distance learning as states call for shelter-in-place to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19. But, according to Debreen Oliva, 8th grade Intro to CTE – Home & Career Skills teacher at Howard L. Goff Middle School, learning from home does not necessarily mean the value of the lesson needs to stay at home. Mrs. Oliva challenged her students recently to make a difference in their community with a service-learning project.

Students wrote letters and sent cards to residents of nursing homes, they sent thank you cards to nurses, doctors, police officers and other essential workers and they created informative posters and social media campaigns.

Eight grader, Elle Buff, summarized the project saying we are “making people smile and giving back to the community.”

Rainbow drawing on drivewayWe caught up with Shannon Breimer working from the desk in her room. She said Mrs. Oliva inspired her to make cards for her friends and family so they could find happiness during this time, adding she “learned how to be more creative along the way.” She said that doing this project made her happy and seems to have made others happy too. She also completed a large chalk mural on her driveway in hopes of spreading happiness to her neighbors, too.

‘Lifting Spirits One Card at a Time’ is the title of Elizabeth Durfee’s project to bring hope and spread positivity to others during the pandemic. Durfee became pen pals with another child in her neighborhood. Sending letters back and forth enabled them to get to know each other without breaking social distancing rules. Durfee also sent letters to her grandparents in Wyoming and great grandmother in South Carolina. “I put a smile on her face, there is nothing better than to see her happy,” said Durfee.

Also staying in touch with family was Kirsten Kreiger who added, “I learned how to write an actual letter and how to mail it out. Today, technology plays such a huge part in my life that I have never had to write one.” Kreiger received text messages from extended family saying they were happy to get the letters and it made their day a little bit better, adding “I even made the refrigerator at my aunt and uncle’s house and that is a big deal there,” This project made her think that something as simple as writing a letter could make someone’s day better, Kreiger concluded.

Inviting aunts, uncles and cousins to Zoom chats was the method Michael Bishop used to cheer up his grandparents. When asked why he chose this service project, Bishop replied, “It’s simple, my grandparents took care of me when I was young so now, I am helping to take care of them.”

Classmate Sydney Manning added, “I wrote letters to friends and family for my service-learning project. I learned that you can be there for someone while still being apart. I chose to do this project because I know that communicating with people without interacting is a good way to make sure everyone stays healthy physically and mentally. My project turned out nice and I feel good about the fact that my letters may have helped someone.”

Joshua Mosher was also inspired by Mrs. Oliva and he, in turn, inspired his sister to join in as well. Together, the brother-sister team “wanted to take some of their free time to make people’s day better” by making cards for residents at Evergreen Commons Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, explained Mosher.

Thinking also about the employees at these residential facilities, Sophia Cunningham made cards for the workers at Van Rensselaer Manor nursing home. “That’s where my mom works” Cunningham explained. “My mom told me about how hard everyone was working and that many of them were scared. I wanted to help bring a little happiness into their lives and I believe I have accomplished that. Many of the workers told my mom that the cards made them feel appreciated. I also received a thank you note from one of the workers saying she hung it up in her office and every time she sees it, she smiles.”

Mandy Sheehan understood how the health workers at the VA hospital were feeling; her mother is a PA at the hospital, so Mandy really had an inside look at the effect on healthcare workers. To show appreciation for everything they were doing Mandy wrote thank you notes decorated with an acrostic poem. Sheehan reported, “The healthcare workers appreciated these cards and it brought a smile to their face in these hard times.”

Samantha Nusbaum described the cards she created for essential workers as “a simple project, but it means a lot because I am thankful for health care and essential workers who risk their own health” to help others.

Lucas Calyer who partnered with Isabella Sano also honored essential workers with a slideshow. Calyer explained, “The slideshow recognized all the people that are still working even during these hard times. I learned that I am very lucky to be in my house safe while other people are risking their health.”

Thank you notesSome of the essential workers Harper Erdmann chose to thank include some who are very close to home. She dropped off cards at Goff Middle School for the custodians and cafeteria workers who are still working. Erdmann was inspired by her uncle who is an essential worker in the medical field stating, “he’s tired but he’s working very hard to help people so I wanted the essential workers near me to know their hard work is appreciated a lot by the people they’re helping.”

In addition to grocery store workers, doctors and nurses, Makayla Figgs was kind enough to identify teachers and thank them for posting schoolwork online so students can continue to learn while school buildings are closed.

Paul Mueller chose to focus his project on teens, explaining, “Social media such as Instagram and Twitter may cause teens to have anxiety about this pandemic. My project is meant to ease the anxiety of these news stories and give tips to teens to get off their phones. By doing this project I learned that there are so many things better you can do then sit on your phone and scroll through social media. I thought my project turned out very well and I hope my project was helpful to teens my age.”  Some of Mueller’s Stay Off Social Media tips are listed here.

  1. Create a zoom meeting with your friends and connect. Watch a show or do some homework together. Humans are social people and connecting with your friends online is one way to fulfill that part of your life.
  2. Turn off your phone and do something active; you might also find out that doing something active is more fun and addictive than social media.
  3. Leave your phone out of your room at night and read a good ole book. Reading is a great way to meet your literature needs during quarantine and will take up lots of time so you won’t be bored. Your phone will not be an issue while you dive into the amazing world in a book. Don’t have books at your house? No problem, you can download a book on your phone or tablet but make sure to turn those social media notifications off!
  4. Spend time with your family. Use quarantine as an opportunity to bond with your family, which will provide social interaction instead of sitting on your phone for hours on end; not to mention how happy your parents will be when you spend time with them!

Kindness rocksChloe Rapant has received the best kind of feedback from her painted rock project. Rocks with inspirational sayings, such as ‘you can do it!’ or ‘you rock!’ were spread around the Schodack Town Park. Recently, when Rapant took a walk with her family she noticed that other people have put out rocks so, “I know that its impacted people” explains Rapant.

Several students decided it was important to focus on eating healthy including Roan Butterfield and partners, Kylee Church and Sadie Murphy. Butterfield explained, “This was important to me because not only does eating healthy make you feel better and stronger, it also gives you more energy and a positive mindset. I created a poster and posted it on Instagram. My friends and family told me they had all been making healthy recipes since my post.” With a catchy title, “Green Quarantine,” Murphy and Church set out to make a positive change because eating healthy is a “great first step to making the lifestyle change to live healthier,” said Church. Both girls say they now eat healthier and exercise more and they challenge you to take on Green Quarantine with one of the two healthy recipes below.

  • Strawberry Banana Smoothie: Blend 1 frozen banana, 1 cup of strawberries, a container of Greek yogurt, and 1 cup of milk.
  • Ants on a Log: Spread peanut butter on the celery and top with raisins.

Two other classmates also partnered to complete their project. Matthew Kardash and Colin Kelliher put up signs promoting social distancing. Kardash was honest when he said, “The idea of the project was to make others aware of what people are going through…and to get a good grade.”

Another project with a creative title is Colin DeMarco’s 4 C’s which stands for Colin’s Cousin Corona Check-in. DeMarco encouraged his younger cousins who are reluctant readers to read to him, assisting with unfamiliar words and providing positive feedback. DeMarco was happy to report, “My cousins look forward to our Zoom meetings” and the service-learning project has inspired DeMarco to continue the 4C’s project with his cousins.

Student making face masksRachel Clarke used the project as an incentive to learn how to sew while she made face masks. Clarke summarized her results, saying “The project turned out wonderfully. The masks were all made successfully, and it feels nice to have done something to help efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. Volunteering time and materials to help a good cause is a great way to support my community.”

Christian Bachandouris applied a different kind of creative talent and capitalized on connections to create a video he shared on Instagram featuring Siena men’s basketball players thanking essential workers.

Buff said “Overall, this project has put smiles to so many faces and has created a positive vibe. Although the state is kind of in a lockdown, students are finding ways to reach out and try to help the best they can,” and Buff encourages everyone to do the same. “Even a simple phone call to someone you miss or just to say hello” will help, she said. Maryah Moore agreed, “I’m really proud of all my hard work and I could see myself doing this again in the future.”

Mrs. Oliva explained that the shift to remote learning has been an unexpected adjustment for teachers and students. In addition to helping others, one project objective was to help students gain a sense of purpose and satisfaction. “These 8th graders shared kindness and positivity to help others and in turn, I hope the experience helped them feel good too,” concluded Mrs. Oliva.