Have you heard your child talking about someone as being a Giraffe or a Turtle? Have you wondered whether you, or they, are going a little bit crazy? Fear not – Giraffes and Turtles are very much alive and well at All Saints!
Now we’re not talking about actual giraffes and turtles, of course. We’re talking about people whose lives can serve as an inspiration to our students (and to all of us), and can provide rich and meaningful subject matter to research, reflect upon, and write about.
At All Saints, Giraffes are “people who stick their necks out for others” by giving back to their communities. Each year, Second Grade students are assigned a Giraffe who has been nominated by teachers and staff. Students create a list of questions to ask their Giraffes, and are then treated to an up-close-and-personal interview with their special Giraffe. Once they’ve gathered all of the information they need, students create a chapter book about their Giraffe, which is then presented to their new friend at a celebratory breakfast at which all of that year’s Giraffes are honored. Here is a small sampling of this year’s Giraffes:
- The Rev. Erik Soldwedel, an ordained Deacon and the founding Program Director of Newark ACTS of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, a service-learning program for young adults that emphasizes social justice, community service, spiritual formation and communal living. Deacon Erik also serves on the All Saints Day School Board of Trustees.
- Jennifer Poland, a volunteer with Shiloh NYC, an organization which provides programming to equip at-risk, inner city, teens with tools that build hope, confidence and the skills to attain their goals. Jennifer helps organize a run that raises funds to send children to summer camp. Jennifer is also a parent in our school.
- Mark Singleton, President of the Hoboken Homeless Shelter Board of Trustees. Mark has been involved in educating Hoboken youth about the problems of hunger and homelessness in our community for the past 18 years. Mark is also the parent of two All Saints alumni (in addition to being my brother!).
Turtles are equally inspiring people. Sixth Graders begin their year by watching a documentary called “The Incredible Journey.” This compelling video details the life of a young loggerhead turtle as she follows the path of her ancestors on one of the most extraordinary journeys in the natural world. Born on a beach in Florida, the turtle rides the Gulf Stream all the way to the frozen north and ultimately swims around the entire North Atlantic to Africa and back to the beach where she was born. After watching the documentary, students are tasked to think of people in their own lives who have truly inspirational stories, and to interview them to learn more about their personal challenges and accomplishments. These amazing individuals have shown grace in the face of great adversity and become symbolic “Turtles” for our Sixth Graders. After learning about and writing their incredible stories, students honor and celebrate the bravery, resilience, and countless ways in which these human “Turtles” give back to their communities at our end-of-year Turtle Club Breakfast.
This year Sixth Grade was treated to a special guest who came in to share her fascinating story with the class. Maryann Hobbie persevered through a sudden and debilitating illness that left her a quadriplegic. Despite medical predictions to the contrary, Maryann is now up on her feet and is in chaplaincy school at Overlook Medical Center and volunteers at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, where she runs a weekly spirituality group. Other Turtles include cancer survivors, individuals who fled to the United States to avoid political persecution, a woman who broke the glass ceiling by being the first black woman school principal in her town, a minister from South Korea who gave up everything he had to come to the States to earn his Master's of Divinity and to better equip himself for ministry and service, a 100-year-old woman who was among the first women to receive a medical degree, and several individuals who overcame extreme poverty to accomplish great things in their lives.
I feel so blessed to be able to expose our children to such inspiring and wonderful people who are working each and every day to make a difference, many of whom have demonstrated perseverance and grit to overcome incredible odds. I have every confidence that our students will be inspired by these stories and will remember them for many years to come.