‘You’re Doing Good’ Notes Pack a Lot in a Backpack

Simple notes tucked inside school lunches may seem too small to matter. But they have the power to put a smile on a child’s face, get students through a tough day, motivate them to do well and warm up their world with an “I love you.”

Many of the parents attending open houses at Thornapple Kellogg elementaries before the start of school said they were planning on sending first-day-of-school notes, and that they make writing the surprise notes a habit.

Kim McCormick’s first-day-of-school note to her daughter Mieka, a fifth-grader at Page Elementary, wished her good luck and told her to let her light shine. “It’s a good pick-me-up,” McCormick says. She also will be sending notes this year with her rambunctious 5-year-old son, Milo. “Oh yeah, he’ll get plenty of notes,” she says of Milo — who never stopped moving while she was being interviewed.Mieka McCormick likes getting surprise notes from her mom

McCormick remembers her father sticking notes inside her sandwiches when she was in school. If you want to steal this idea, check first to see if your child trades lunches. That’s what McCormick sometimes did as a student, and one day the classmate she traded with bit into a sandwich topped with a chewy piece of paper.

Jennifer Gavette, a teacher at Lee Elementary, frequently sees her second-graders come with Post-it notes from home telling them, “Can’t wait to hear about your first day!” Says Gavette, “It brings a pretty big smile to their faces. They usually run around and show all their notes.”

The encouraging notes tell them that “even though Mom and Dad can’t be here, we’re still thinking about you,’ ” she adds. “I do think, especially now, parents are really concerned about how kids feel.”

Mike Guy, who was helping his daughter Faylene, a second-grader at Lee, with her locker, also thinks the notes let his children know that they aren’t just being dropped off at school and forgotten. Faylene gets notes from both him and her mom that say things like “I’m proud of you” and “You’re doing good.” Says Guy, “I think it makes them learn responsibility.”

Dozens of studies have shown when parents are involved with their child’s education, actions like writing notes support everything from better grades and self-esteem to finishing homework consistently and good behavior.

“Parent participation is an instrumental component of a successful educational experience,” says Angie Jefferson, principal of Lee Elementary. “The presence of a parent, help with homework and parental words of encouragement are positive experiences for students of their age.”

Dana Manrose always includes an “I love you” in school notes to her daughter CharlieJill Burkhead’s first-day notes to her fourth-grader Katie and fifth-grader Nathan, who both attend Page Elementary, included messages to make new friends, make good choices and “I love you.” The students’ father, Jamey, sometimes puts silly riddles and drawings in their lunches. Katie isn’t always thrilled with his riddles. “When he writes it’s embarrassing,” she says — while acting silly herself.

Another artistic dad is Adam Graham, whose notes have included pictures of cheetahs and dragons. Bethany Graham sometimes writes her messages on napkins to her daughters Naomi, 8, who attends McFall Elementary, and Madeline, 6, who attends Lee. “I tell them I just want them to enjoy school, feel loved and less nervous,” she says. “They like it better when Dad sends notes, though.”

Dana Manrose, mother of Charlie, a first-grader at McFall, says she’s typically sent notes two to three times a week. “It’s so she knows Mom’s thinking of her during the day,” says Manrose, who has found school notes for sale at card stores. “It makes her smile — and reminds her to eat her lunch.”

Backpack notes can backfire. Amy Goggins once wrote a note to her son, Justin, a Lee third-grader, when he was struggling with a book he had to read in front of class. The note she stuck inside the book said, “I know you can do it, you’ll do well.” All was fine and dandy until the note fell out while Justin was reading the book. “He was embarrassed,” Goggins says.

Kristen Cove, mother of four sons in Thornapple Kellogg schools, only writes them one note at the beginning of the year, but it’s quite a note. Actually, it’s a letter, and the one to her son Damon, a senior, was four pages this year. They get the letters the morning of the first day of school.

Naomi and Madeline Graham say they especially like the pictures their father, Adam, draws

“They actually look forward to them,” Cove says. Damon has saved the letters since he was in kindergarten. This year’s letter encouraged him to “enjoy the ride” of his senior year. She reminded her sophomore, David, how important it is to help the new people, to try new things, set goals and make memories.

The letters tug at her heart as she witnesses another year gone by of her child growing up. “I cry when I write them,” Cove says.

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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