Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, a very special CSD tradition was born. The year was 2001. Picture a quaint little learning cottage (aka – trailer) at the Lake Norman Baptist Church filled with 18 bright-eyed little people. As is the case for most of the elementary school years, sacred and secular holidays are cause for great excitement and celebration. These small milestones mark the passage of time, and through their celebrations, we close out old chapters and begin new ones. For teachers and students, Valentine’s Day is such a Holiday – a little bite of fun sandwiched in-between the post-Christmas/Hanukkah lag and the longing of a deeply desired Spring. As Mrs. Tomko (formerly known as Miss Dearmin) began to ponder how she would celebrate this holiday with her students, she reflected on her own experiences as a child. And the story goes like this…
When I was a little girl and would get sick, I would always go to my grandparents’ house. Since both of my parents were teachers and it was hard for them to miss work, my grandparents would gladly take me in and nurse me back to health. One year when I was about eight years old, I got sick right before Valentine’s Day. If I recall correctly, I missed an entire week of school. My grandfather worked for a printing company and always had stacks and stacks of paper on hand. At his suggestion, we decided to hand-make my class Valentine cards that year. Using my grandfather’s paper and some hand made stencils, we cut out the cutest Cupids and hearts, and then used some of my grandmother’s paper doilies to decorate them. I had never been so excited in my life to share my Valentines with my classmates. I remember gazing at them with pride, thinking they were the most beautiful Valentine cards that had ever been created. And sure enough, they were a big hit with my school friends! But now as an adult, I realize the true beauty lay not so much in the actual Valentine itself, but more so in the thought behind it. To give my classmates a handmade token of our friendship was special – unique. And the time spent making them with my beloved grandparents is a memory I will cherish forever – equally as special and unique. As a teacher, I wanted to be able to give my students and their families a similar experience; hence the Valentine’s Project was born. I pitched the idea to Joy, and with her approval, we quickly got to work on ways in which we could make this project even more relevant, meaningful, and purposeful. The poetry component of the assignment pulled in literacy – something essential in the Basic School philosophy – and something that could be easily tweaked and capitalized upon with each passing year. So just like that – poof! – the CSD Valentine’s Day hand-made cards tradition was brought to life.
Leslie’s story exemplifies The Basic School model on so many levels, but we would like to take this opportunity to capitalize on a few points specifically. First, this project is all about community. When talking with visitors who come to our school, we always say, “Relationships drive everything we do at CSD.” We strive to have a shared vision where community is connected through a sense of purpose. One of the main goals of the Valentine project is for students to celebrate the strengths of their peers. As a teacher, nothing is more rewarding than watching the students read what their peers have written about them. These words of affirmation are life-changing, to say the least. As a parent, it is equally as heartwarming and affirming to read what other students have written about your own child(ren). But let’s be honest…getting to the point where we can actually read what others have written takes some serious work! The weeks leading up to the Valentine exchange can be very demanding, especially in our fast-paced, extremely busy lives. It is our hope that families will view this not as something else to get done, but rather as a time to connect on a meaningful level with your child(ren). Children take cues on how to react off of the adults in their lives. If we, the teachers and parents, approach this as an opportunity to connect and celebrate, it is highly likely that our children will follow our lead. Leslie’s original intention was all about connection and creating an authentic way for students to build upon their literacy skills while simultaneously celebrating their peers. While it would be so much easier to go to the store and buy the ready-made Valentine cards that are readily available this time of year, we would be robbing our children (and ourselves) of an invaluable opportunity to connect and celebrate. Yes, it would save us time in the short run, but in the long term, it would rob us of a memory that could last a lifetime. And just in case anyone was wondering…these Valentines do tend to stick around. Last week, Mrs. Tomko shared a beautiful story with the CSD staff, and in closing, we would like to share this same story with you in hopes of revealing the magic of this (sometimes demanding) project:
The other day I walked into Target to find sweet Mary Thompson digging through the dollar section for Valentine’s Day pencils for her class. She and I start talking about the Valentine’s Project, and she said, “You know, these Valentines are very special and important.” I smiled and must have had a look of wonder on my face. She continued to tell me that this past August when she was getting ready to take Tucker back to NC State for his sophomore year, she had a special revelation. Unbeknownst to Mary, Tucker had packed a small little canvas painted red with white letters that said NC State on it. When she took a closer look, she realized it was the Valentine poem that Zoe Warner had painted for him while in Mr. Hoover’s third grade class many years ago. Mary told me that Tucker had kept it stowed away, along with all of his other Valentines, for all these years, and had decided to take it to college with him. Clearly, it was something that meant a lot to him. To this day, it is proudly displayed on a shelf in his dorm room.
So in the moments of feeling exhausted and perhaps even overwhelmed, we implore you to stop, take a deep breath, and remember what this project is all about – connection and celebration. Try to carve out time where you can be with your child, and remember that these tokens of friendship and appreciation may one day pull them over a difficult hump or travel with them to a new destination. The magic knows no limits. We implore you – feel the love.