Teachers say they don’t have favorite students, but I find that hard to believe. I had many favorites who still make me smile when I recall them. Some were the rowdy boys with no common sense but good hearts, others were smarty pants boys who tried to trip me up on every lesson I taught. Some of the girls were shy and sweet, while other girls had rough edges and needed love. Many seemed practically perfect in every way.
One theory I adopted over 32 years at the middle school is that a teacher with a particular teaching style relates better to the students who favor that way of learning. Some teachers stand behind a podium and pontificate as they teach. Their classrooms are orderly and efficient. Other teachers, like myself as a sixth grade teacher, like to sit on the floor with the kids, sprinkle glitter around for atmosphere and relish a little socializing as they teach. Neither style is right or wrong, individual kids just flourish more with one type or the other.
When I became librarian at the middle school library, it seemed that three distinct types of students volunteered as library aides. There were kids who loved book, kids who were extremely creative or kids who just needed a place to hang out. Different as they were, they all loved glitter on the floor.
The main function of library aides is to help reshelve books, and reshelve they did while munching on pizza or cookies. The library motto was, “If you feed them, they will come.” And come they did. Often there were 50 library aides, filling the library with laughter an hour after the buses departed. I quickly realized that these students needed a purpose, so we began reaching out into the community as ambassadors of kindness.
Soon one group was traveling to Head Start at the lake to read to the preschoolers. Others played bingo with the senior citizens at Hammonton Manor or gave a holiday party for the residents of Greenbriar Nursing Home. Over the years they supported a child in Zambia, collected socks and toiletries for the homeless, sent Golden Books to every baby born in Hammonton and raised money for the Sunshine Foundation. Often the community projects were based on the talents and interests of the students at the time.
In 2002, the library aides were amazingly kind and artistic. They were involved with many outreach events and decided to sew a large quilt with blocks representing their volunteer projects. The quilt took approximately 200 hours to complete and hung on the library wall for years. Some of the students who sewed the blocks by hand were Jennifer Zelinski, Judi Medio, Alison Wuillermin, Charley Costa, Frank Rongone, Trey Alessandrini, Christine Rapp, Lauren Bucci and D.J. Green. I apologize if I omitted names.
One other boy who worked on the quilt, Anthony Lista, needs special recognition. Anthony was one of the most caring students I have ever known. He was always willing to help his classmates and would be the last one helping me clean up at 4:30 p.m., smiling the entire time. When he moved on to the high school, Anthony regularly came back to the middle school library to mentor the younger library aides. I will be forever grateful for his kindness.
That year the State of New Jersey began Mission: Kindness, part of the Governor’s Character Initiative. Mission Kindness invited schools to submit entries from kindergarten through 12th grade outlining their acts of kindness. The library aides entered their quilt. They were chosen as a finalist, and we all went to Trenton for the presentation. Hundreds of students from all over the state attended the awards ceremony and a luncheon. The Hammonton Middle School library aides and their quilt won Second Prize.
Donna Brown is a former Hammonton Middle School librarian and a columnist for The Gazette. To reach Donna Brown, send an email to email@example.com.