Being thoughtful and nice is good advice for any day, but students in Laurie Van Dam’s fourth-grade class at Cedar View make an extra effort every Wednesday.
While many of the activities are done in secret, after three years of the school’s “Wake Up the World Wednesdays,” the recipients often figure out from where their special thank-yous, greetings or treats have come.
But even though the secret identity of the class is out, the students never miss a chance to brighten someone’s day. And they still sign their notes and cards with “mystery class.”
Activities vary from something as simple as putting a sticky note on lockers, to preparing detailed posters of each teacher’s interests for an upcoming parent-teacher conference, she said. “I want them to always look for ways to make people smile,” said Van Dam.
“Cool” is one way many describe the Wake Up the World Wednesday activities.
“It’s cool when we go around the school to spread cheer and put notes on lockers or hide things,” said fourth-grader Logan Redes.
“They do different activities, like the time each student made stickers with something kind or uplifting written on them before putting them on random lockers,” said Alexandria Maybie, Van Dam’s student teacher. “This is really cool.”
Finding ways to spread cheer
On one recent Wake Up the World Wednesday, the students were asked to think of people who make a difference in their school but are generally behind the scenes.
“Let’s see if we can think about how many people help around school that we don’t usually thank,” Van Dam told the class.
A short brainstorming session resulted in a list that included office personnel, custodians, cafeteria staff, recess aides (“because they have to stand in the cold”), and maintenance workers who keep the school utilities like heat and light in order.
When the list was complete students went to work designing and preparing greeting cards.
“You’re cool because you make sure we get to school safely,” says the card students prepared for bus drivers and corner guards.
Students also made going away cards and posters for a fellow student who was moving out of the district.
They particularly had fun writing words of kindness on paper attached to fellow fourth-graders’ backs. Instead of leaving the classroom to spread good thoughts, the idea that Wednesday was to share joy with their classmates.
Getting over the hump
The idea for special Wednesday activities came to Van Dam a few years ago. She and her then team teacher Taylor Funk started each day with an activity designed to encourage their students to do random acts of kindness throughout the school.
“I guess I kind of thought of it because of the popular ‘hump day’ stuff,” said Van Dam. “It isn’t anything like just trying to get through the week, but rather it is a good time to stop and reflect about how the week is going.
“Research shows that gratitude brings joy,” she added. “I want the students to give others something to be grateful for and spread a little joy.”
Students look forward to Wednesdays in her class because they get to play a part in waking up the world. “It feels good to spread joy,” said fourth-grader Brooklyn Plumb.
Spreading joy to others brings the feeling full circle.
“I see their joy when they do these things,” said Van Dam. “When they made things for their fellow student who was leaving, they saw his smile when they gave them to him. They really love doing things like this.”