Lessons in giving

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Spreading Christmas cheer came as an assignment for some students at Scott City Middle School this year.

As part of a writing assignment, Leanne Grant asked students in her communications arts classes to select five items to put into a shoe box that would be donated to area nursing homes. The students also included essays about Christmas and a personal letter in each box.

As part of their writing assignment, the students brainstormed about what kind of items they could include in the gift boxes.

Earlier in the year, the students read an article on Alzheimer's disease and began talking about the Christmas boxes project. But Grant's been doing these boxes with her students for several years now and tells a story about a red sweater.

The students are to choose nongender-specific items for the boxes since they don't know who will receive their gifts. But the first year, one student snuck in a red sweater. It turned out that the gift recipient had been contemplating whether to buy herself a new red sweater for a Christmas party. She wrote a note back to the class, thanking them for the gift and the perfect timing.

Not only does the project give the students good writing experience, it helps prepare them for the MAP test, Grant said.

The students learn about brainstorming ideas, spend time making outlines of their essays, writing rough and final drafts, and are required to use vivid, descriptive language and transitions. For each day that the students work hard in class, Grant rewards them with a small item that can be included in their boxes -- it might be a calendar or little trinket.

Some students and their families shop for the gifts in the boxes. Ethan Irvin's mother knitted a scarf to include in his box this year. "They only have to have five items in the box but Ethan's boxes had 10," Grant said.

Yvette Uelsmann said she doesn't see much of her mother, who works as a waitress, but shopping for the boxes gave the two a chance to spend the day together. She knew what sort of things to include in her box because she had lived with a grandparent. "That's why I chose that coffee cup that doesn't spill," Uelsmann said as she showed classmates what items were packed into her box.

Eighth-grade students said this year's project was a little easier than last because they knew what to expect. What they didn't expect was the hard work it took to write the essays.

Grant gave them several topics to choose from, including holiday traditions, Christmas wishes or the true meaning of Christmas. Most of the students chose to write about traditions, though a few had to think hard about what those were.

Cody Arnold didn't think his family had any Christmas traditions until this assignment began. But he realized "we always go to the same house."

Chelsea Gilmer "learned that I could write."

Grant said the boxes make the students proud of their work too.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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