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Students post open letters of kindness to special people

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Eighth-grader Mallory Terpstra stapled a letter addressed to her doctor on a wall at West Middle School. It stated her gratefulness for his support and care while she has struggled with Crohn’s disease and colitis.

“You have made me pass the limits I thought I had; you really helped me continue what I love to do and never stop. I can’t wait till one day to be working with you in the same department helping kids with Crohn’s and colitis,” she wrote to Dr. Peter Freswick, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Spectrum Health. Mallory planned to bring the letter with her to her next appointment.

Mallory Terpstra stands next to an open letter she wrote for her doctor

Students in the eighth-grade English classes of Jamie Stevenson, Kaiti Blundy and Erin Bastic completed a journalism unit with something personal: writing letters to be posted openly for someone they care about.  They hung them in the hallway or shared them digitally or in person with the recipient. The teachers also wrote open letters to their classes.

Students wrote to parents, teachers, the retiring band director, coaches, best friends — anyone who has touched their hearts in a positive way. “You got to really let out what you want to tell them,” said student Hunter Bailey, who wrote to his two best friends.

“I found it fun because generally no one does this. It allows you to go back in time and talk about memories and express your feelings,” said student Allison Richards, who wrote to a friend.

The teachers said they wanted to culminate the unit, which involved objective news writing and investigative journalism, with an editorial-style, less formal assignment. They noticed the popularity of open letters shared on social media and assigned students to write positive ones.

“We also  wanted to give students a way to just practice being kind to others, and we thought it would be a good way to wrap up the unit and and school year as well,” Stevenson said.

“This world needs more kindness,” Bastic added. “This was one small opportunity for us to be able to express how we really feel to the people in our lives who are important and have impacted us.”

Open letters express kindness and heartfelt messages on the Byron Center West Middle School wall
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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