A teacher in Collinsville, starting her 22nd year in the classroom, said for years she's noticed, among students, a decline in manners, concern for others, and mutual respect, and this year, she decided she had to do something about it.
"I gotta do something to make them love each other" thought Karen Loewe, a middle school English teacher. She found a project online to help students learn about empathy while unloading their own emotional baggage. Last Thursday, the 7th and 8th graders in her class got a lesson that that surprised their teacher the most. "I didn't know some of the things they would share, and it just kind of took me back."
The lesson involves students writing down what weighting them down - whatever is holding them back, including things that may be hidden.
Caden Green said he knew right away what he wanted to write down. So he did, and wadded up the paper, because part of the exercise is symbolically throwing it away. Then other students read them, out loud. Students are given an opportunity to raise their hand if they want others to know it's what they wrote.
"To me it looked like they were almost about to cry, like something they went through before," said Savanah Torrez, about what she wrote, which was something she said she had never been written down or shared. "It felt like I lifted a lot off my head." When it was read out loud, she realized the other students understood. "Like she knew exactly what I went through, the pain, and how it felt."
Mrs. Loewe said the notes had many stories of loss; a death in the family, divorce, a parent in prison and children with parents who abandoned them.
The conversation the notes created, she says, has changed everything in her classroom. "They trust me, and they trust their classmates, that's what I want."
As a reminder of the baggage they've left behind, she's keeping the notes in a bag hanging by her classroom door. The lesson has changed how the students deal with each other, and how she relates to them. "Here I am saying turn in this homework, and knowing they go home and knowing what they deal with, give them some grace, give them some grace."