By Lorraine Glowczak
The idea began approximately 10 years ago by accident. The story goes something like this: artist, teacher and author, Amy Latta was looking for a way to teach her son about Thanksgiving without getting "caught up in the craziness of the holidays,” as Latta is quoted as saying. What came from that moment, is the Gratitude (or Thankfulness) Pumpkin and it has caught on like wildfire.
This simple and creative project only requires three easy tools; a pumpkin, a permanent marker – and of course, an optimistic mindset. All that is required of students is to write words of gratitude on the pumpkin to physically see the positive things that are happening in their lives.
There is scientific evidence that gratitude helps people feel more upbeat emotions, experience improved health, increased ability to deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. It is for these reasons that Manchester School Counselor, Jessica Weatherbee suggested the Gratitude Pumpkin Project as an SEL (Social/Emotional Learning) component with her school counseling program.
“I have been exploring different ways to connect students who are in the same class but attend on different days within the hybrid model,” Weatherbee said. “So, I brought the Gratitude Pumpkin idea to the teachers as it was something that my family did at home last year. Students in Cohort A [Monday/Wednesday in-person class] and Cohort B [Tuesday/Thursday in person class] are both participating and reviewing what their peers and teachers are grateful for.”
Although this was an optional activity for the teachers, many instructors chose to participate, including Meg Sparrow and Deborah Milair (both fifth grade teachers) and fourth-grade teacher, Leah Richards.
“I jumped right on board the Gratitude Pumpkin project because I think it’s so important for people to recognize the beautiful things they have in life,” Richards said. “I think sometimes, especially in times like these, it’s easy for us to feel down in the dumps and defeated. I thought this would be a great way for my students (and myself) to shift our thinking to being more positive. My hope in doing this project with my students was that I could help them to see things in a positive light and focus on all of the good things that we have.”
The students shared many things they were happy to have in their lives, some of which required real reflection on what is important.
“Honestly, at first, I thought I would get materialistic answers from students like my Xbox, a TV, cell phone, etc. because they talk about these things so much, and they’re things that kids really enjoy,” Richards said. “And while some of them did list a few of these things (I mean, who isn’t grateful for pizza?), I was so pleasantly surprised when I saw some of their answers like my family, my teachers, being able to see my friends face to face, food, and a having a place to live. The answers were deep and really showed that the kiddos recognized that they have a lot to be grateful for in life!”
Perhaps one of the brightest outcomes of this project, is a connection the students feel towards one another, even though they don’t get to see their friends every day.
“Not only are the students benefiting from practicing gratitude, but the activity is building a sense of community across the two cohorts as well,” Weatherbee said.
Richards has also witnessed the social and emotional impact this project has had among her two separate classrooms.
“I really did see a shift in my students the last two weeks we’ve been doing the pumpkin,” Richards said. “They’ve connected to one another a lot more, they’re more positive, and they’re thankful for the little things. I think it comes down to the amazing power of a positive mindset. If we can focus on the good things that we have and appreciate the little things that we have going on in our lives, then we will be happier and more appreciative.
“We all, myself included, really took for granted the little things like being able to see our friends face to face, or to learn in person, or the ability to go out to dinner. It’s really easy to focus on the things that we don’t have, or the things that we want, but how does that make us feel better? It’s a tough shift, but my kiddos did it.”
In addition to the connecting with students and friends they don’t get to see every day and the increased feelings of gratitude, the fourth- and fifth-grade students also demonstrated resiliency during times of challenge.
“I just want to say how proud I am of our RSU 14 students. Despite the crazy adventure that we’ve all been on the last couple of weeks, RSU 14 students have shown us what it means to be positive and resilient in challenging times,” Richards said. “We can certainly learn a lot from them! WAY TO GO WINDHAM EAGLES!”<